The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States should be reviewed to make sure that the agreement placed Filipino soldiers on equal footing with their American counterparts, Senator Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III said Friday.
Pimentel, chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, explained that a majority of senators wanted the VFA reviewed given that the existing VFA did not put both countries on equal footing, particularly when it came to taking custody of servicemen who faced criminal charges or who were convicted of a crime.
The VFA, which came into effect in 1999 after being ratified by the Philippine Senate, allowed US troops to train and advise the Philippine military in disaster response and in fighting terrorists but banned US forces from combat operations.
Likewise, the VFA allowed US authorities to take custody of erring US servicemen pending final judgment of a case.
“Para sa akin, ang magandang middle ground is yung mismong suggestion ni Secretary [Teddy Boy] Locsin, iyong vigorous review. Iyong majority ng Senate is for review. Kasi if we look at the VFA, approved ng Senado. But there is a counterpart VFA na hindi inapprove ng US Senate regarding sa status ng visiting Filipino forces sa America,” Pimentel said.
The counterpart VFA between the Philippines and the United States which deals with Filipino military personnel visiting the US, did not necessarily place custody of erring Filipino servicemen facing charges or who were convicted of a crime in the US with Philippine authorities.
Under the counterpart VFA, “the United States Department of State or Department of Defense will ask the appropriate authorities in the United States having jurisdiction over an offense committed by Republic of the Philippines personnel to waive in favor of the Republic of the Philippines their right to exercise jurisdiction, provided that it is requested in a particular case by the Government of the Republic of the Philippines.”
But even if the Philippine government made such a request, granting custody to Philippine authorities was not a given “in cases where the Department of State and the Department of Defense, after special consideration, determine that United States interests require the exercise of United States federal or state jurisdiction.”
“Are we being treated as unequal by the US? Unequal sovereign ba [ang Pilipinas]?” Pimentel asked.
Pimentel then said the VFA between the Philippines and the United States should be patterned after the Status of Forces Agreement between the Philippines and Australia in which there was a parity of treatment of both military forces.
Pimentel then insisted that a review was in order, considering that there existed a Presidential Commission on the VFA which was mandated to periodically review the VFA's impact.
Pimentel also emphasized that a review would not necessarily lead to abrogation.
“Kapag sinabi kasing review, status quo muna,” Pimentel explained.
The VFA governing US soldiers visiting the Philippines did not have an explicit provision for a regular review of the agreement.
Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Eduardo Malaya, however, noted that a review was possible without this explicit provision.
“Yes [there is no provision for a review], but [there is] no need to have an explicit provision. It is implied in treaty practice,” Malaya told GMA News Online.
The hearing on the VFA was prompted by President Rodrigo Duterte’s threat to abrogate the VFA after the US government canceled the US visa of his longtime ally, Senator Ronald dela Rosa. — DVM, GMA News