PALO, Leyte: President Benigno Aquino 3rd on Monday shot down renewed calls to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States.
In an interview, Aquino said the agreement should not be voided because of the killing of a transgender in Olongapo City, Zambales. A US Marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton, was tagged as the suspect in the death of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude on October 11.
“Why should we abrogate the VFA? Name me any place that doesn’t have crime. The sin of one person, should [it]be reflective of the entire country? I don’t think so,” Aquino told reporters at the sidelines of ceremonies to mark the 70th anniversary of the Leyte Landing.
“So, a crime was committed. Kunin lahat ‘nung ebidensiyang magpapatunay na ang may salarin ang may kasalanan dito, at magkaroon tayo ng katarungan [Let’s get all pieces of evidence that will prove that the suspect did it, and we will have justice],” he said.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg, according to the President, are trying to resolve the issue of custody of Pemberton.
The two officials are also working to ensure that the American soldier will be available during investigation of the case and other judicial processes.
Laude’s death prompted renewed calls to junk the VFA.
Militant lawmakers belonging to the Makabayan bloc believe that the killing of Laude “highlighted the patently onerous provisions of the VFA on the custody of erring US troops, prescription of criminal prosecution and waiver of jurisdiction that essentially grant immunity from prosecution to US military personnel who commit crimes against Filipinos.”
“The VFA has been widely and rightfully criticized as an onerous agreement that has paved the way for the permanent presence of US troops in the country under the guise of year-round military exercises and training,” the Makabayan lawmakers said in a resolution demanding the repeal of the agreement.
Malacanang earlier said the case “gave stronger basis to reevaluate the prevailing provision in the agreement to ensure that national interest will be upheld and justice is served to our people.”
The President ordered the review of the VFA in 2010, particularly the provision stating that the US would have custody of its personnel “from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”
But the Philippine government can “request” transfer of custody and the US is obliged to make such personnel “available” to Philippine authorities “in time for any investigative or judicial proceedings relating to the offense with which the person has been charged.”
In 2009, Aquino, then a senator, backed a Senate resolution asking the Arroyo administration to scrap the VFA if the US will not agree to renegotiation.
Although Laude’s death again put the VFA on the spotlight, Goldberg, who also attended the Leyte ceremony, gave assurances that the alliance between his country and the Philippines will not falter.
The envoy said the US continues to renew and expand its partnership with the Philippines.
The Mutual Defense Treaty between the two countries was the basis of the VFA, which eventually replaced the Military Bases Agreement after it was terminated by the Senate.
Goldberg said the treaty is “a pillar of our relationship and a source of stability in the region.”
“I know we will be faced with challenges and uncertainties. But just as was the case 70 years ago, we will prevail,” he added, noting that the alliance of the two nations is based on shared values of courage, mutual respect and freedom.
“There can be no doubt that by working together, we will meet any challenge, no matter how great,” the ambassador said.