Time to review the VFA

WHILE the debate continues to heat up whether the Philippine government should abrogate or not the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), it is good to know that the United States has already expressed its willingness to subject the said accord to a review.

It is a positive development in as much as the newly minted Presidential Commission on the VFA could now begin its task of reviewing and then making some recommendations relative to the same.

In response to calls by various sectors for a review or  even the outright junking of the agreement, President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III has reorganized the Presidential Commission on VFA and appointed Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa as its chairman.

The President likewise named Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin as co-chairmen.

Appointed as members of the commission were Secretaries Leila de Lima and Dinky Soliman of the departments of justice and social welfare respectively.

Noynoy is expected to appoint a representative from the private sector to complete the members of the commission.

Right at the onset, the VFA was already met with strong opposition especially by those coming from the left wing of the political spectrum but it was nevertheless ratified by the Senate in 1999 during the administration of Joseph Estrada.

Ironic as it is in as much as Estrada was one of the staunchest opponents of the US military bases in the country and was one of the senators that voted for the pull out of US troops from the country in the early 90s.

But the ratification of the VFA during President Estrada’s time has given the US troops another chance to return to the country and by 2002 , they were already here and have since been a permanent fixture in some key areas of the country.

Records show that there are some 3,000 US troops now in Luzon for joint military exercises with their local counterparts with a special focus on counterterrorism.

Likewise, Zamnboanga city is host to hundreds of US troops, mostly members of the Special Forces on the pretext of providing training and assistance in intelligence gathering to army troopers against al-Qaeda-linked militants operating in Sulu, Basilan and other areas Mindanao.

It cannot be denied that the VFA has some inherent advantages for the country especially in the field of providing military training and logistics which our troopers can use to maintain peace and order especially in the trouble-prone southern part of the country.

However, I believe that a review is necessary if only to iron out some kinks and make the accord fair for both countries as far as applicable provisions are concerned.

The VFA has been under fire especially after the rape case involving a Filipina and US Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith , who managed to stay away from jail while the trial was being heard by invoking certain provisions of the accord.

Certainly, there is an extreme need to clarify VFA provisions on jurisdiction over US soldiers facing criminal indictments in the Philippines.

Lest, similar incidents might happen again in the future and the government would once again be helpless in prosecuting erring US soldiers.Bobby Ricohermoso

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