FIVE lawmakers at the House of Representatives on Thursday filed a joint resolution that seeks the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Party-list Representatives Neri Colmenares and Carlos Zarate of Bayan Muna, Luz Ilagan and Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela and Antonio Tinio of Alliance of Concerned Teachers endorsed Joint Resolution No. 17, which pushes for abrogation of the VFA and calls on President Benigno Aquino 3rd to send a notice of termination of the pact to the United States of America.
The Makabayan bloc renewed its call to scrap the agreement after the filing of a murder charge against US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton for the death of Jeffrey Laude.
The VFA, inked between Manila and Washington in 1999, allows American soldiers to engage in anti-terrorism and disaster preparedness training with their Filipino counterparts. Under its provisions, American servicemen who will be found violating Philippine laws will be tried in the Philippines but the custody will remain with American authorities “from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”
“It is a big slap on the face of the Filipino nation and downright revolting that the government failed to arrest and take custody of the suspected assailant Pemberton, and that the US authority and custody prevailed over the American suspect of killing a Filipino on Philippine soil. The VFA is an affront to the State’s sovereign power to enforce its laws within its territory and makes a mockery of our justice system,” the lawmakers said.
“Foreign relations in domestic law are the prerogative of both the President and the Congress. Congress, through its plenary law-making power, and the President through the residual or personal prerogatives. One cannot be compelled by the other but neither will an act have force and effect without the other’s concurrence,” they added.
“This incident highlights the patently onerous provisions of the VFA that essentially grants immunity from prosecution of US military personnel who commit crimes against Filipinos,” the lawmakers said.
They recalled past incidents where US soldiers had run-ins with the law: The rape of Suzette Nicolas in 2005 by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, the shooting of farmer Buyong-Buyong Isnijal in Tuburan, Basilan, in 2002 involving American soldier Reggie Lane, the shooting of Arsid Baharon in Barangay San Roque, Zamboanga City, on June 21, 2004 by an American soldier whose identity US authorities have withheld, among others.
The lawmakers argued that despite the Philippine Senate’s ratification in 1999, the VFA is not valid and is unconstitutional since it is not recognized and ratified as a treaty by the US as a contracting State as required by its Constitution.
“In the 15 years that the VFA has been in place, the country’s sovereignty and national interest have been undermined in favor of US strategic economic and politico-military interests in the country and the Asia-Pacific region,” their resolution read.
But the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said the VFA ensures Philippine jurisdiction over Pemberton.
Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said the department respects the right of the lawmakers to file a joint resolution for the abrogation of the VFA.
“But we should bear in mind that without VFA, we won’t even have jurisdiction over this case,” he added.
Article V Paragraph I of the VFA states, “Philippine authorities shall have jurisdiction over United States personnel with respect to offenses committed within the Philippines and punishable under the law of the Philippines.”
Based on that provision, Pemberton will be tried in Philippine courts under Philippine laws.
Jose explained that without the VFA, Smith may not have been convicted in the Philippines because he was already inside a US ship when the crime was reported to authorities.
He said the DFA will formally ask for custody of Pemberton through a diplomatic note once a warrant of arrest has been issued by the court where the soldier was charged.
With Bernice Camille Bauzon