VFA, Edca hot topics over killing
MANILA, Philippines—Can the Philippines still trust the United States to fulfill its commitments under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca)?
Former Sen. Joker Arroyo raised this question on Thursday as senators mulled renegotiating the VFA following a fight for custody of a US Marine who is a suspect in the killing of transgender Filipino woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.
In a statement, Arroyo said the United States was expected to protect its servicemen. But he wondered how the United States could be expected to fulfill its commitments under treaties if it could not even “protect Filipino women from US servicemen.”
He said this should be “food for thought” for senators who were inclined to review the VFA for a possible renegotiation or abrogation.
A related deal, the Edca, has been questioned in the Supreme Court, Arroyo said.
“Since the United States does not have faith in the Philippines’ justice system, how can Filipinos be expected to have faith in America’s security commitments?” he asked.
Laude’s brutal killing in a motel in Olongapo City on Oct. 11 has stirred public anger and kicked up a clamor for the transfer of the suspect, Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton of the US Marine Corps, to Philippine custody.
Amid calls for the Philippines to take custody of him, Pemberton was flown from a US ship in Olongapo to Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday, where he will be detained under US guard during the investigation and trial of his case.
Under US custody
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said on Wednesday that Pemberton remained under US legal custody, and that the Philippines would seek custody only after a warrant for his arrest was issued.
Some senators said on Thursday the government should have taken custody of the serviceman from the start.
Sen. Serge Osmeña said the objectionable provisions of the VFA were haunting the government anew in the Laude case.
“I voted against the VFA, and my main objection was, why are we accepting that we Filipinos are second-class citizens in our country? If I committed that crime, I would be in jail already. No air-conditioned [freight container]. I would be in jail, period, and rightfully so,” Osmeña told reporters.
Eighteen senators voted to ratify the VFA in 1999, but not Osmeña, Teofisto Guingona Jr., the late Raul Roco, Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Loren Legarda.
Osmeña said American servicemen should be treated like any other national when found committing crimes in the Philippines.
“They have violated our laws. We should treat them like everybody else, Filipino or Japanese or European. In the same way, if I violated their laws in the States, I would go straight to jail. That’s the provision I didn’t like then,” Osmeña said.
“When it comes to human rights, why are they more sacred than Filipinos in our own country?” he added.
Osmeña said the VFA should be renegotiated because of these objectionable provisions, but not totally scuttled.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the foreign relations committee, said on Wednesday that the VFA’s provisions on custody tended to favor the United States.
‘Elephant in the room’
She cited Article 5, Section 6, which stipulates that if US military authorities make a request for custody, custody “shall immediately reside” in the United States.
In contrast, if the Philippines requests custody in extraordinary cases, the US government will merely take the request into “full account,” she added.
“This gross inequality is the elephant in the room,” Santiago said at a public hearing that she had called to look into the killing of Laude.
Del Rosario defended the VFA at the hearing.
“It is precisely because the VFA is there that we are actually able to exercise jurisdiction over these servicemen,” Del Rosario said, adding that the Supreme Court has upheld the VFA’s constitutionality in three cases.
Santiago said that if there was any doubt that custody belonged to the Philippines under the VFA, this stemmed from its “iniquitous language.”
“Unless the preliminary investigation and trial show otherwise, a US Marine has committed murder in cold blood on a Filipino. And yet some Filipinos prefer to gloss over this sorry record of atrocities committed against civilians by American servicemen, because of paranoia stemming from the fear that our country will become a ‘failed state,’ if we distance ourselves from American foreign policy,” she said.
But the record shows that the United States abhorred such a responsibility that came with “continuing to suckle the Philippine infant at the American breast,” Santiago said.
And she cited several reasons for terminating the VFA.
US help against China
Santiago said that the agreement did not imply that the United States would come to the Philippines’ aid in case of a fire fight with China over their territorial dispute in the West Philippine Sea.
She called the United States ‘impecunious,” saying it could not tangle with China, to which it owed $1.27 trillion.
She said the US pivot to the Asia-Pacific region had been “drowned” by the violent emergence of the Islamic State jihadist group in the Middle East.
“If we are afraid of the designs against us by China and its 1.7 billion people, then let us not hide under the umbrella of the VFA. It is no protection against the tsunamis that engulf us. Instead of military confrontation, let us turn to economic diplomacy with China,” Santiago said.
Originally posted at 10:03 pm | Thursday, October 23, 2014
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