US envoy: Accord, Laude case are two separate issues
Reviewing the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in the middle of a case involving a US serviceman makes no sense, US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg said on Friday.
In a roundtable with select media, Goldberg suggested that the two issues–the October 11 death of transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude and the review of the VFA–be treated separately.
“I think we should separate that [clarifying certain provisions of the VFA]from the current situation. The current situation is we have to apply the VFA as it is,” the ambassador said.
He noted that there is “clarity” in the steps to be taken in handling the case of Laude, who was killed in Olongapo City, Zambales on October 11. A murder charge has been filed against US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.
“These steps in the VFA that have to be formally done, and that don’t happen just because we talk about it in theory.
We need to follow the VFA at the moment,” Goldberg said.
On Thursday, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima expressed the need to revisit provisions of the 1999 military agreement.
Goldberg said it is within the rights of the Philippines to review the VFA and clarify parts of it with the US.
But any changes to the agreement must be “mutually beneficial” to the two countries, and agreed upon by both sides.
The envoy also dismissed the possibility of the abrogation of the VFA, saying President Benigno Aquino 3rd himself refused to scrap the accord amid calls from militant groups and lawmakers.
“It shouldn’t be [abrogated]. I’m not going to get into a political debate here. From our point of view, it’s an agreement that shouldn’t be abrogated,” he said.
The VFA is more than a military pact, Goldberg added. It allows the US to develop the security capabilities of the Philippines, as well as reach out to areas ravaged by typhoons and other natural calamities.
Presidential Commission on the VFA Executive Director Eduardo Oban said the agreement was being reviewed to clarify certain provisions.
The review does not focus on any specific provision, however, and certainly not the segment on the US’ retention of custody of American servicemen accused of offenses in the Philippines–a thorny issue ever since the Americans took custody of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith in 1995 when he was accused of raping Filipina Suzette Nicolas.
Goldberg also noted that Washington understands the ongoing concerns and the public sentiment on the VFA and what happened to Laude, but that the rule of law must govern judicial proceedings that will eventually take place on Pemberton’s case.
“We understand the people’s concerns. I know there’s a bereaved family. We also have to pursue what we have to pursue in the rule of law. That doesn’t mean a bereaved family can change the rule of law,” he said.
In an interview on GMA-7’s “Unang Hirit” on Thursday, Goldberg pointed out that the US does not want to “engage in theatrics” after noting that “intruders” illegally entered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City where Pemberton is being detained.
He was referring to Marc Sueselbeck, the German boyfriend of Laude, who clambered over the camp’s perimeter fence to find out if Pemberton was really detained there.
Goldberg said he saw no reason for the relationship between the Philippines and the US to be strained over the Laude case.
“We have a great relationship with the Philippines, military, government, armed forces and the people. We expect that to continue in the future, so we can overcome the current situation because it’s built io trust and cooperation,” he added.
On Friday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario confirmed the ongoing review of the VFA but said it is unlikely to lead to a renegotiation.
Del Rosario made it clear that the review was not prompted by the Laude case.
“We have been undertaking this review now, since last year. It’s been on our agenda,” he told reporters after a hearing on the proposed 2015 budget of the Department of Foreign Affairs.