THE Senate leadership is convinced that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States (US) should be reviewed with the aim of revising the criminal jurisdiction provision of the pact.
Senate President Franklin Drilon on Thursday said he fully supports calls to have the 15-year-old treaty reviewed after questions on jurisdiction were raised in the case of Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, the accused in the killing of Filipino transgender Jeffrey Laude.
“I believe that the Department of Foreign Affairs [DFA] should take this opportunity to propose a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the US,” Drilon added.
The Senate chief explained that only the executive department can propose a review and come up with amendments based on what will be agreed upon with the US government.
He explained that the Senate’s role is only to concur with or ratify the treaty.
“The Philippines must initiate a request of the review of the Visiting Forces Agreement because of what is happening at present. I believe amendments should be made on the provision about detention and custody because it is not in compliance with the Revised Penal Code and our Rules of Procedure,” Drilon said.
He was referring to Article V, Paragraph 6 of the VFA, which states that “the custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”
Several lawmakers have insisted that the Philippine government should have jurisdiction over Pemberton in light of issuance of a warrant of arrest against him.
The US Embassy had said the US will have custody of the soldier “as provided by the VFA.”
The DFA also on Thursday said it will no longer appeal the US decision.
Charles Jose, Foreign Affairs spokesman, said in a news briefing that the department has no plans to assert custody of Pemberton.
“I think, yes, we will not request anymore. We’ll just wait for the court to advise us when the trial stars and where we expect Pemberton to appear,” he added.
He, however, noted that the US Embassy was informed that the US soldier will remain for the duration of the trial at Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine military’s general headquarters in Quezon City.
According to Sen. Francis Escudero, the Philippine government should continue to find ways to convince the US to give up custody of Pemberton.
Like Drilon, Escudero said the government should pursue the review of the VFA and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to resolve issues on jurisdiction and custody.
“The executive branch has no obligation to consult the Senate on foreign policies because it is within its sole domain except on the part of the Senate to ratify treaties that will be submitted to the chamber,” he noted.
US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg also on Thursday insisted that provisions of the VFA must be applied to the case of Pemberton.
Speaking on ANC’s “Headstart,” the envoy cited criticisms of the VFA, with some noting that the Philippines cannot have jurisdiction over Pemberton’s case without custody over him.
“That [jurisdiction versus custody]may be a Philippine legal opinion, but it’s not our view of how VFA works. The VFA is an agreement between our two countries, and is part of Philippine law,” Goldberg said.
He added that view may be exercised when the accused is a Filipino.
“But you’re dealing with an American serviceman covered by VFA, which is also part of the law,” the ambassador said.
Goldberg noted that there are Americans jailed here, and the US has helped the Philippines a number of times in extraditing people to stand trial here.
“But this American serviceman is covered by the VFA. The reason we have the VFA is for certain legal and other obligations we have to our service people,” the envoy said.
He added that because the US has stationed troops around the world, it has to enter into agreements “to have some assurance on certain matters.”