Secret VFA paper bared
Joker says pact favors erring US soldier
MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Joker Arroyo has produced a secret document that proves the one-sided nature of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States in the treatment of erring personnel.
“This is a well-kept secret,” Arroyo yesterday said of the “complemental agreement” that he described as “part and parcel of the VFA” and constituted its implementing rules and regulations.
The 14-page document was signed by then US Ambassador to the Philippines Thomas C. Hubbard and then Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr. on Oct. 9, 1998.
According to Arroyo, the VFA mandates that an American soldier who commits a crime in the Philippines will be detained at any US embassy or penal facility. But under the secret agreement, a Filipino soldier who commits a crime in the United States cannot be housed in a Philippine embassy or consulate but “shall be served in penal institutions in the United States suitable for the custody level of the prisoner.”
“In short, confinement shall always be in a US penal institution. The only consuelo de bobo (consolation) is that we may ask which prison [the Filipino soldier] may be confined,” Arroyo told reporters in a phone-patch interview.
Ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, the VFA governs the conduct of US troops engaged in military exercises in the country.
Calls for its review and outright scrapping have lately been aired, triggered by the continued detention at the US Embassy of Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, who was convicted in 2006 of raping Filipino woman “Nicole.”
Arroyo provided Senate reporters copies of the accord titled “Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and Government of the Republic of the Philippines regarding the Treatment of Republic of the Philippines Personnel Visiting the United States of America.”
“We never had a solid argument why the VFA is unequal, with no reciprocity and no mutuality, until now,” Arroyo said, adding that the document was provided by “a learned jurist.”
Its preamble states that the two governments agreed to the accord “for the purpose of complementing the Agreement between the United States of America and the Republic of the Philippines regarding the treatment of United States Armed Forces visiting the Philippines.”
Arroyo said the matter should not be elevated to the Supreme Court but should be resolved within the Philippine government’s political department because the foreign secretary “speaks for the President.”
Siazon is now the Philippine ambassador to Japan.
Asked to comment, Bayani Mangibin, spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said he would look into the agreement, if indeed there was one, and seek a clarification from Siazon.
“The terms on confinement are so glaringly iniquitous, and that Philippine authorities ever agreed to this reflects our residual colonial mentality,” Arroyo said.
He said that with Manila’s consent, erring Filipino troops could even be held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, which is operated by the US government as a detention camp for terrorists.
Arroyo said this anomaly in RP-US relations should be resolved in favor of Filipinos.
“It is time President Arroyo and the legislature joined hands in a nonpartisan manner to eliminate this iniquitous and one-sided arrangement, which has bedeviled us for the past 63 years, from 1946 to 2009,” the senator said.
“After all, it was neither President Arroyo nor the present Senate that entered into the VFA in 1999,” he said.
Arroyo observed that certain parties had warned against “rocking the boat.”
He lamented: “We need the US, they say. The pity of it all is that because of the century of dependence on the United States, we have not learned how to walk. It’s time we got up unaided. And if we fall, as we start to walk, then we stand up on our own as healthy babies do.”
Not just making noise
Arroyo said that in seeking the scrapping of the VFA, the focus should be on “confinement and jurisdiction.”
To the reminder that the Philippine Senate had ratified the agreement, he said: “Of course, past is past. But what is the alternative? Let’s just allow this to go on, forget this?
“We’re being beaten black and blue, and yet we’re still smiling.”
Arroyo said working for the scrapping of the VFA was not merely a matter of “making noise” but a matter of “justice and official responsibility.”
Opinion/Letters to the Editor