Abrogation of VFA sought due to custody issue over US soldier in Laude slay
MANILA, Philippines—Party-list lawmakers filed on Thursday a joint resolution calling for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States in reaction to the failure of Philippine authorities to take custody of an American serviceman suspected of killing a Filipino transgender in Olongapo City.
The Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives also asked President Aquino to send immediately a notice of termination of the 15-year-old agreement to the US in response to the situation arising from the crime, which they said proved the agreement’s “pro-US and anti-Filipino character.”
“It is a big slap on the face of the Filipino nation and downright revolting that the government failed to arrest and take custody of Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton of the US Marine Corps, the suspect in the killing last Saturday of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, the lawmakers said.
“This incident shows that VFA is unmistakably an affront to the State’s sovereign power to enforce its laws within its territory and makes a mockery of our justice system,” they said.
The joint resolution was filed by Bayan Muna Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate, Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap, Alliance of Concerned Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio, and Kabataan Rep. Terry Ridon.
Gabriela Representatives Emmi de Jesus and Luzviminda Ilagan were set to file their own resolution.
The representatives noted the citation by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) of Article V, paragraph 6, of the VFA stating that: “The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with US military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”
They said Laude’s case was not an isolated one, and that there had been several crimes committed by American servicemen who did not fall within the criminal jurisdiction of Philippine authorities under the VFA.
“These include: the rape of a Filipina named Nicole in Subic, Zambales in 2005 by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith; the shooting of farmer Buyong-Buyong Isnijal in Tuburan, Basilan, in 2002, involving American soldier Reggie Lane; the shooting of Arsid Baharon in Barangay San Roque, Zamboanga City on June 21, 2004 by an American soldier whose identity US authorities have withheld,” the lawmakers said.
The Makabayan representatives also criticized the VFA for what they described as the “permanent presence” of US troops in the country under the year-round “Balikatan” (Shoulder to Shoulder) exercises.
“There are also reports that the US facilities here are used for surveillance of other countries in Asia especially those that are conflict-ridden. Since 2002, there has been continuous presence of US troops in the country through successive military exercises,” they said.
The group also said the VFA, despite its ratification by the Philippine Senate in 1999, was not valid and unconstitutional since it was never recognized and ratified as a treaty by the United States as required under its own Constitution.
Article IX of the VFA provides for the manner of termination: “This agreement shall remain in force until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.”
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