Akbayan solon files resolution calling for VFA termination
MANILA, Philippines — A solon on Monday filed a joint resolution calling for the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in light of the alleged murder of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude at the hands of a US serviceman.
House Joint Resolution 19 filed by Akbayan Representative Walden Bello seeks to terminate the VFA “due to acts committed by US military personnel in the country that are contrary to the Constitution, human rights standards, criminal statutes and norms and standards concerning the protection and preservation of the environment…”
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago will also file her counterpart of Bello’s resolution.
Laude was found lifeless in a hotel room in Olongapo city with her head on the toilet bowl. Police said she died of asphyxia by drowning.
Witnesses say Laude checked in at the hotel with a US serviceman, who was identified as US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. He is detained at an air-conditioned container van in Camp Aguinaldo secured by Philippine and US military officials.
Bello cited not just the Laude case, but also the alleged dumping of hazardous waste at Subic Bay by a US Navy Contractor in 2012, the grounding on the Tubbataha Reef by the USS Guardian in 2013, as well as the purported establishment of a base for US Special Forces in Zamboanga.
Bello said for every unlawful incident supposedly committed by the US military, “the US government would conveniently cite the provisions of the VFA in order to evade accountability.”
“The VFA has not served the interests of the Philippines since its inception and there is a clear trend that the US government is not mindful in observing and respecting Philippine laws being violated by elements of its military visiting the Philippines,” the resolution read.
“The above-mentioned cases show that the VFA is used to shield transgressions made by the US military on Philippine soil and that the Agreement seriously infringe our country’s ability to prosecute these criminal acts,” the resolution added.
The alleged murder of Laude again roused criticisms on the VFA, which allows US troops visitorial powers despite having no military bases in the country.
The VFA grants the Philippines jurisdiction over US troops who commit crimes in the country not linked to their official duties. But it also says custody over the Americans remain with the US government except on “extraordinary cases.”
In a statement, Bello said the alleged murder of Laude reflects “the government’s inability to protect the Filipino people from the actions of the US military.”
“Jennifer Laude suffered a crime of hate… Pemberton continues to be under American custody, while enjoying the comforts of his detention cell… Every effort of Jennifer’s family to achieve justice is thwarted by the VFA,” Bello said.
The solon said terminating the VFA would “take away from the (US government) that which protects their men from accountability.”
“By terminating the VFA, we leave American authorities with no option but to submit their personnel to the Philippine government, to be made accountable for the heinous crimes they committed on Philippine soil,” Bello said.
A similar bill has been filed by the Makabayan bloc seeking to abrogate the VFA which the authors called “one-sided, pro-US and anti-Filipino” and “an affront to the State’s sovereign power to enforce its laws within its territory and makes a mockery of our justice system.”
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