Santiago, Bello file resolution to end VFA
MANILA, Philippines–Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello have filed a joint resolution seeking to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) three weeks after the killing of a transgender Filipino in Olongapo City allegedly by a US Marine.
Santiago and Bello also filed a similar resolution seeking the abrogation of the 15-year-old VFA in the previous Congress.
“The US will be brazen about their violations because they know they can get away with it,” Bello said.
The resolution stated that the Senate and the House of Representatives should terminate the VFA because of the noncompliance of visiting US military personnel with Philippine criminal and environmental laws, the Constitution, and international norms and customs on the protection and preservation of the environment.
Angry calls from the public and lawmakers followed the killing of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude allegedly by Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton of the US Marine Corps in a motel in Olongapo City on the night of Oct. 11.
Police have filed a complaint for murder against Pemberton, who is detained in Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City.
Bello noted that the VFA had been used by the US military as a license to “act in wanton disregard for Philippine sovereignty” and that a “weakness” in bilateral ties had been exploited by the United States.
“Instead of owning up to their mistakes, paying reparations to the Filipino people, and ensuring justice for victims of heinous crimes committed by their own personnel, we have the American authorities repeatedly resorting to the VFA to evade accountability,” Bello said.
Aside from the killing of Laude, Bello listed other transgressions made by the United States against the Philippines: the “Nicole” rape case; the USS Guardian’s destruction of the Tubbataha Reefs; the dumping of toxic waste by US Navy contractor Glen Defense Marine Asia in 2012; and the engagement of US special forces in combat operations in Zamboanga province.
“The only way we can push back at the US government is to take from them 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.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said it would study the resolution filed by Bello and Santiago then issue a statement.
There was no immediate comment from Malacañang.
The DFA has rejected calls for even a review of the VFA, saying the agreement works and has made possible Philippine jurisdiction over the case of Pemberton.
But whether the United States would grant a Philippine request for custody of Pemberton would be a test of relations for both countries, Sen. Francis Escudero said on Monday.
Escudero said whether the Philippines would demand custody of Pemberton once charges were filed and an arrest warrant was issued against the US Marine would be worth watching.
“If we ask for it, and they don’t grant it, that will be a test for both parties,” Escudero told reporters.
He said the United States’ agreeing to an arrangement to detain Pemberton at the Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) compound in Camp Aguinaldo wasn’t an indication it would agree to a Philippine request for custody.
PH to seek custody
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario has said that the Philippines didn’t insist on custody because the United States had already taken custody of Pemberton.
But he has also said that the government will seek custody once an information is filed in court and the warrant is issued for the arrest of the US serviceman.
Escudero said he believed that the Philippines gained more from the VFA because the United States detained Pemberton and then agreed to his transfer to Camp Aguinaldo.
Since Pemberton wasn’t arrested by local authorities immediately after the crime, and no court had issued a warrant for his arrest, he could have been allowed to leave the Philippines, Escudero said.
In the resolution she filed, Santiago, chair of the foreign relations committee, cited the Laude case, the establishment of a base in Zamboanga City, the 2012 dumping of toxic waste by a US Navy contractor in Subic Bay, and the 2013 damage caused by a US ship to the Tubbataha Reefs as grounds for calling for the VFA’s termination.
The incidents clearly “violate the Constitution, Philippine criminal laws, trample on Philippine sovereignty, and infringe on local and international laws pertaining to the protection of the environment,” she said.
“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,” she added.
In the Laude case, Santiago said Pemberton did not appear in the preliminary investigation of the murder complaint at the city prosecutor’s office since he was not required to do so.
Still under US custody
She also said that while Pemberton was being held in a Philippine military camp, he remained under US custody.
Santiago said that if US personnel committed crimes in the Philippines, the US government would “conveniently cite the provisions of the VFA in order to evade accountability.”
“The above-mentioned cases show that the VFA is used to shield transgressions made by US military [personnel] on Philippine soil and that the agreement seriously infringes on our country’s ability to prosecute these criminal acts,” she added.
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