Wake Up, Philippines!

Win for veterans; remedies for VFA

Posted in Congress, Foreign Affairs, international relations, Legislation, Treaties, Veterans Affairs, VFA by Erineus on February 22, 2009

LAST February 9, the day after his arrival from Washington, D.C., Foreign Secretary Alberto G. Romulo visited me. He lamented that media had ignored the real purpose of President Macapagal-Arroyo’s recent side trip to the United States. Recall that from the Davos World Forum in Switzerland (and a few other cities), GMA flew to America, instead of returning home as originally planned. He rued that media unfairly pilloried GMA’s alleged “shameless stalking” of US President Barack Obama.

Main purpose of US trip. Romulo explained that, at the recommendation of our Ambassador to the United States, Willy C. Gaa, he prodded GMA to go to Washington because the US Congress was then hurriedly debating the gargantuan economic stimulus package proposed by President Obama. He advised her to meet with US congressional leaders to make sure that the long-delayed compensation for the Filipino veterans of World War II is included in the stimulus bill.

Thus, according to the genteel foreign secretary, GMA met with Senators Daniel Inouye, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Daniel Akaka, chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee; John Kerry, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee; and Jim Webb, chair of the Sub-Committee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, who all “promised to help her fulfill her mission.”

In the US House of Representatives, she spoke with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Steve Austria (the first first-generation Filipino-American member of the US lower house) who both “assured her of their full support.”

She also conferred with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose photo-op with her was carried extensively in TV and newspaper reports. The attendance of GMA at the National Prayer Breakfast—though given much publicity—was only an incident, not the main agenda, of her US trip, so Secretary Romulo said.

Congratulations but more work needed. I must admit that, given the wide publicity of her alleged dogging of Obama, I was not too persuaded—at that time—that the veterans’ cause propelled GMA’s recent visit to America. But this week’s headline stories announcing the allotment of $198 million (out of the $787-billion stimulus package) to compensate some 18,000 Filipino World War II veterans, convinced me that GMA’s US trip was well-worth the effort.

Perhaps, the residual public distrust of GMA’s administration as shown by repeated poll surveys and the inadequate reporting of her US visit contributed to the skepticism of her US agenda. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Her mission was accomplished. The six decades of effort to correct an injustice to our war heroes finally succeeded.

To quote Sen. Joker Arroyo, the amounts awarded are “too little and too late.” But I think they are still welcome. I just hope that, as urged by the Inquirer’s editorial last Tuesday, GMA will continue to lobby for a much bigger award. In the meantime, let me give credit to whom credit is due: Well-done, Madam President! Congratulations, Secretary Romulo and Ambassador Gaa!

I also join the Inquirer editorial the other day saluting US Senator Inouye for his steadfast support.

* * *

Legal and diplomatic solutions to VFA. On May 17, 2006, during my term as chief justice, I visited—accompanied by our then Ambassador to the US Albert del Rosario—some US Supreme Court justices in Washington, D.C. to invite them to participate in the Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity that our high court was sponsoring later that year.

Declining my invitation, US Justice Antonin Scalia—the leader of the conservatives who often dominate the US Supreme Court—explained,

“… I am useless in international meetings because I believe that our Supreme Court is tasked to enforce only the US Constitution and US laws, not cross-border concepts that do not find implementing US statutes.”

This is why I was not surprised by the US Court’s ruling in Medellin vs Texas (Mar. 25, 2008) that a treaty—even if ratified by the US Senate—will not be enforced in the United States, unless (1) “by its terms,” it is self-executory, or (2) it is implemented by an act of the US Congress.

In a commentary published in the Inquirer’s front page last Feb. 14, I opined that, based on this ruling, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is not enforceable in the United States because (1) the US Senate had not ratified it; (2) nothing in the VFA says it is “self-executory,” and (3) no US law implements it.

Per Ambassador Kristie Kenney, the VFA has “the force of a treaty,” but sadly, per the US Supreme Court, the treaty does not have the force of a US domestic law. For this and the other reasons detailed in that commentary, the VFA violates our Constitution and is also unenforceable here. Hence, our government should initiate moves to abrogate it, or at the very least to renegotiate its objectionable features, as urged by many senators.

But to solve the diplomatic standoff now plaguing Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith’s custody, our courts should decide the appeal of his conviction as soon as possible. In this manner, Smith would either be unquestionably jailed in the Philippines if convicted, or freed if acquitted. This is a diplomatic solution without loss of face for the both the Philippine and US governments.

A diplomatic remedy suggested by the US Supreme Court itself is for the US Congress to pass an omnibus law implementing treaties entered into by the United States, including—if I may humbly suggest—the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty and the revised VFA.

* * *

Comments are welcome at chiefjusticepanganiban@hotmail.com

http://opinion.inquirer.net/inquireropinion/columns/view/20090221-190295/Win-for-veterans-remedies-for-VFA

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