Palace defends VFA: It’s vital part of PH defense
MANILA, Philippines–Malacañang on Tuesday dismissed calls in Congress to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) following the killing of a transgender Filipino woman allegedly by a member of the US Marine Corps, describing the pact an “integral part of our national defense strategy.”
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Akbayan Rep. Walden Bello earlier filed a joint resolution demanding that the accord on the conduct of US troops temporarily stationed in the Philippines be scrapped.
They argued that the VFA’s 15-year operation “has negatively impacted not only on our sovereignty and environment but also more recently, on human rights and human dignity.”
The resolution cited the killing of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, who was found dead in an Olongapo City motel on Oct. 11. The alleged killer was Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who is now detained at Camp Aguinaldo.
Charles Jose, spokesman of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said in a text message to reporters on Tuesday that the VFA cannot be scrapped just by approving the proposed congressional resolution.
“Strictly speaking, only the executive has the mandate to enter into, review and abrogate agreements,” Jose said.
“The President has already stated that the Philippines needs the existence of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which forms an integral part of our national defense strategy,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma said in a statement.
Justice to be served
Acknowledging militant groups’ outrage over the killing, Malacañang vowed that “the government is exerting all efforts to ensure the ends of justice would be served.”
President Aquino earlier rejected the possibility of terminating the VFA, arguing that the focus should be bringing the perpetrator to justice. He said the VFA “serves a purpose for our country as it serves a purpose for America.”
“The fundamental point that has to be raised is there was a crime committed. There has to be the finding of the guilty party and the accumulation of the necessary evidence to make this person answer for the crime before our courts. And that, I think, is being done currently,” he told the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines last week.
“And in fairness to the Americans, they have made available the suspect for investigation and for judicial processes, which the treaty calls for. I don’t think there is any shielding. There is the desire for protection of everybody’s rights from the victim to everybody who’s accused.”
Credible defense posture
In the joint resolution, Santiago and Bello said the VFA “has not served the interests of the Philippines since its inception.
They cited 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 VFA should be terminated because of noncompliance of US military elements in the Philippines, with our criminal and environmental laws, the Constitution, and international norms and customs on the protection and preservation of the environment,” according to the resolution.
Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin on Tuesday warned that the abrogation of the VFA proposed in Congress would have an adverse effect on Philippine efforts to achieve a “minimum credible defense posture.”
“Let us not forget that the VFA is a component of our overall defense strategy,” Gazmin told reporters. “It is a work in progress and we should not hastily throw it into the trash bin before it has truly proven its worth.”
‘VFA at work’
Gazmin insisted that the United States had shown its willingness to cooperate in the investigation of the Laude slaying. He said that the two sides had shown respect for each other’s sensitivities, citing Pemberton’s detention at Camp Aguinaldo.
“That is the VFA at work,” he stressed. In a radio interview later, Gazmin said he was open to a review of the VFA to fine-tune its controversial provisions, such as the custody issue.–With a report from Christine O. Avendaño
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