Philippines defends proposed VFA with ex-invader Japan

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Wednesday, June 24, defended the proposed Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between Manila and Tokyo, as critics fear that Japanese troops would commit the same abuses that American troops made under a similar arrangement. 

"'Yung ating mga pagkakamali o mga flaws ng ating Visiting Forces Agreement with America, hindi na mauulit dito sa Visiting Forces Agreement with Japan," Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin said in a forum Wednesday.

(The mistakes or flaws of our Visiting Forces Agreement with America will not be repeated in this Visiting Forces Agreement with Japan.)

Critics have slammed the Philippines' VFA with the United States because of the reported special treatment for erring US soldiers. 

The latest VFA-related case involves US Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who allegedly murdered Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude in October 2014. (READ: US expert: Pemberton's fingerprint on condom wrapper

Pemberton is detained at an American facility in the Philippine military's main office. Under the VFA, he is under Philippine jurisdiction but under American custody. (READ: Why PH must assert sole custody over US Marine)

Former Philippine Senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr, whose institute organized the forum, warned the Philippine government to avoid "a Pemberton type of situation."

Gazmin, however, did not detail the diferences between the VFA with the US and the proposed VFA with Japan. He said talks on a new VFA have not even begun.

The most he could disclose, as of Wednesday, is that the proposed VFA with Japan "does not include permanent bases." 

He said the proposed VFA will tackle "the transfer of technology and transfer of military equipment."

'Have we forgotten what Japan did?'

Gazmin stressed the need for a VFA with Japan as both countries face an aggressive China. 

Even before the VFA is ratified, in fact, the Philippine and Japanese navies have conducted joint training exercises in the disputed West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).

"The maritime challenges both our countries face place both of us almost in the same boat, with a common neighbor causing alarm and concern for both of us," Gazmin said. 

He cited China's declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone in the East China Sea, and China's island building activities in the South China Sea.  

In the same breath, he said the Philippines' VFA with any country "is not directed against any country." He said each VFA is designed to give the Philippines "at least a minimum deterrent" against security threats.  

In Wednesday's forum, Gazmin also quelled concerns about signing a VFA with Japan, which invaded the Philippines during World War II and committed various atrocities against Filipinos. (READ: Aquino orders report on WWII 'comfort women')

Gazmin said: "Some may also ask, 'Why Japan? Have we forgotten what Japan did in the Philippines and to Filipino people during the Second World War?'"

"To this, I say: 'We have not. And we will not forget what took place then, which is now a part of our collective experience and national psyche as Flipinos. But that does not mean that we should remain stuck in the past. Indeed we should take stock of what has transpired but we should be ready to move forward and beyond.'" – Rappler.com 

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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