Editorial

Pemberton, VFA, EDCA and PH-US relations

THE murder of transgender, Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in Olongapo City and the arrest of the suspected murderer, US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, has again provoked different reactions.

One of these provides challenges to our leaders while evoking sentiments about America that many Filipinos share. It was sent to us for publication by no less than one of the country’s most respected political figures, former senator Joke Arroyo.

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PEMBERTON, a question of trust

BY JOKER P. ARROYO

Since the US does not have faith in the Philippines’ justice system, how can Filipinos be expected to have faith in America’s security commitments?

That is the simple issue highlighted by the Pemberton case and similar cases in the past. The Philippines has had half a dozen defense and security arrangements with the US since 1951. The country is divided as to its wisdom and necessity.

When problems arise from these security arrangements, the incident that causes it invariably is not security-related. In every case, it would involve US servicemen who violate Philippine criminal laws when they are off-duty. Pemberton is not an isolated case. In the past 60 years, similar cases have arisen.

Predictably, the US immediately protects the US servicemen. If the US cannot even protect Filipino women from US servicemen, how can Filipinos rely on the US to live-up to her commitments embodied in the treaties or agreements they have with us.

That should be food for thought for the Senate whose members’ battle-cry is to review the VFA, but with cautionary statement not to abrogate it. EDCA, which is before the Supreme Court, has interlocking references with VFA. Yet the haunting question is trust, whether as allies we can trust each other.

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The familiar anti-Americans are clamoring that the Philippines unilaterally scrap the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States. But we agree, as our columnist Francisco S. Tatad, said in his “First Things First” column on Wednesday, that “it would be good to see these calls grounded on the most compelling reasons, not just on a Marine’s sexual adventure that ended in a murder most foul.”

Mr. Tatad also wrote, and we completely agree with him, that “[Senator] Miriam Santiago and her [Senate] colleagues completely missed the boat when they failed to say anything after President B. S. Aquino 3rd decided to enter into an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement with the US, without Senate advise or consent. Even among those who believe the EDCA is a timely response to the new security environment in the Asia Pacific, conviction runs high that it should not merely take the form of an Executive Agreement, which could be denounced and terminated by an unsympathetic President as soon as Aquino leaves office. It should instead take the form of a treaty concurred in by the Senate, if only to comply with the Constitution, and express the full backing of the entire Republic, including the electorate.

“Now, even among those who believe the text of the VFA should now be updated, serious doubt exists that those who want the treaty scrapped know exactly what they want. The original purpose of the VFA was to provide a legal regime under which US military troops could continue to visit the Philippines under the Military Defense Treaty, which authorizes such visits, after the US military bases were shut down in 1991. If the VFA has proved inadequate or incompetent to carry out its declared objective, then the parties have an urgent duty to replace it with something else more effective.

“But to scrap it, as some otherwise responsible politicians would suggest, is to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face, as the saying goes. That would be to give way to a political tantrum or an emotional outburst, not to a rational imperative. This would be to misunderstand gravely some of the most fundamental facts about the Philippines. The country’s security and defense alliance with the US is one of the more obvious foundations upon which this supposedly democratic and republican state rests, and from which it seeks to discharge its duties to its own people, and to the peoples of the region and the world. It may not be permanently carved in stone, but any attempt to question or alter it should be based on solid and unimpeachable grounds, and openly and vigorously aired, argued and debated, not just among those who lost the Cold War and failed to install a communist government. It cannot be presented merely as a necessary side-effect of a despicable murder that happened on a young Marine’s wicked night out.”