Senate passes resolution on visiting forces pact with Australia on 2nd readingBy Kate Evangelista
MANILA, Philippines – The Senate on Wednesday passed the resolution on the Philippines-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement on second reading with seven negative votes, on its last day of plenary sessions before the chamber’s sine die adjournment.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile -together with Senators Loren Legarda, Jinggoy Estrada, Franklin Drilon, Vicente Sotto III, Pia Cayetano, Bong Revilla, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, Antonio Trillanes IV, Edgardo Angara, Kiko Pangilinan, Panfilo Lacson and Gregorio Honasan – voted to approve the measure on second reading.
Meanwhile Senators Joker Arroyo, Ralph Recto, Serge Osmeña III, Ferdinand Marcos, Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III and Miriam Defensor-Santiago voted against the passing of the SOVFA or Senate Resolution 788, which was certified by President Benigno Aquino III as urgent and was sponsored by Senator Loren Legarda on Monday. There were 21 senators present during the plenary session.
During the voting, Osmeña said that his vote is in keeping with his stand against the VFA with the United States in 1999.
Meanwhile, Senator Francis Pangilinan said that he will submit a written explanation on his vote come the third reading of the resolution.
The Senate will have its sine die adjournment on June 7.
The agreement, ratified by Aquino on December 23, 2010, called for the issuance of a memorandum order asking the Department of Energy and Natural Resources to monitor the activities of participants to ensure they do not violate any of the environmental laws of the Philippines.
“SOVFA will ensure that Australian Visiting Forces and its Civilian Component are well-informed of our environmental laws and regulations,” Legarda, sponsor of the resolution and chair of the Senate committees on Foreign Relations and Climate Change, said.
“The SOVFA with Australia sets a precedent in defense agreements in that it has unique provisions on environmental protection. The Agreement explicitly prohibits the conduct of exercises or other activities in protected areas, ancestral domain areas, critical watersheds and protected forest areas,” Legarda added.
Meanwhile, Senator Santiago said that the agreement is vague especially on the terms regarding the temporary use of land, sea and air space and other facilities and on the exercises and other activities which will be undertaken during bilateral trainings and noted that there is no clear constitutional basis for the Philippines’ armed forces to be trained by the visiting forces.
“Proponents of the Agreement between the Philippines and Australia have not made clear what the constitutional basis is for the Philippines to allow our military forces to be trained by a visiting force in our own territory,” Santiago said, and warned that concurrence of the Philippines “may threaten the sovereignty of the country.”
Santiago added that there will be no benefits for the Philippines when the SOVFA is approved.
Arroyo echoed the same sentiment noting that Australia has been banning Philippine exports like mangoes, bananas and pineapples.
“We should look into it, on what advantages we should get,” Arroyo said.