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.
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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.
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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
MANILA, Philippines — The country can revoke the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should the United States refuse to comply with the Supreme Court ruling to place convicted rapist Daniel Smith under Philippine custody, a lawmaker said on Wednesday.
“Now the Americans will be tested, whether they respect the primacy of the Supreme Court and agree to place Smith under Philippine custody. Their failure to do so would be a reason for the Philippines to suspend or even terminate the VFA,” Muntinlupa Rep. Rozzano Rufino Biazon said.
But militant lawmakers have a different take on the ruling, which also upheld the constitutionality of the VFA.
Bayan Muna (People First) Representative Teodoro Casiño said a bigger issue than Smith’s custody is the Balikatan (shoulder-to-shoulder) joint military exercises being conducted under the VFA.
Casiño said Bayan Muna is considering filing another Supreme Court case to question the supposedly permanent presence of US troops in the country.
Gabriela Rep. Liza Maza called the VFA an “affront to the country’s sovereignty.”
“With this decision, the courts have virtually given the United States a free hand in dealing with criminal offenders from the US military and dims the hopes of attaining justice for women and children victims of abuse and violence,” Maza said in a statement.
“We can expect more impunity now that the Supreme Court has rendered our courts limp and toothless in the face of US criminal violations,” she said.