Solon urges Congress to approve Joint Resolutions filed in 2010 terminating VFA

BAYAN MUNA Partylist Representative Neri Colmenares today voiced renewed calls for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) citing its provisions exempting from inspection imported “steaks” and other US meat products as another example of the humiliation suffered by the Filipino people under the VFA.

“While our products entering the United States are subjected to rigorous quarantine inspection, US meat products like steaks are unfairly not subject to mandatory inspection because under the VFA the US military commander, not Philippine authorities, retains the power to conduct quarantine inspection and decide whether or not to allow Philippine authorities to enter US vessels or planes.

“If they imported these products through their ships rather than through a contractor the DA would not even know about it. Sec. Alcala should assert his authority to inspect products in US ships. Even if the US will allow the quarantine inspection of the intercepted meat, all they have to do the next time is just transport it through their huge naval ships” said Rep. Colmenares.

“Article III Par. 3 (c) of the VFA provides that “Any quarantine inspection of United States aircraft or United States vessels or cargoes thereon shall be conducted by the United States commanding officer”.

Surely the US will use this provision against any attempt by DA Sec. Alcala to inspect or quarantine meat transshipped through third party contractors. This same issue cropped up during the SARs epidemic years ago after the US refused to have its men and cargoes checked by Philippine health authorities. This is dangerous since the healths of the people are at stake.”

Tax exempt too

Rep. Colmenares also revealed the VFA provision not only exempts US products from inspection but also from import taxes and duties.

“While our government is busy taxing our people with so many taxes, it exempts the US from any tax under the VFA. Article VII provides that ‘US equipment, materials, supplies and other properties imported into or acquired in the Philippines by or on behalf of the US armed forces shall be free of all Philippine duties, taxes and other similar charges” said Colmenares.

“The same Article VIII even allows ‘personal baggage and properties of US soldiers that may be imported into the Philippines free of duties and taxes’. This is one more injustice under the VFA and one more reason why the VFA should be scrapped. We challenge Comm. Kim Henares to disregard this unconstitutional provision and tax US imports. Article III and VIII of the VFA are two of the most humiliating provisions in the VFA. It even has a provision exempting US military and civilian personnel from visa. Read it and weep.”

Rep. Colmenares renewed calls for the approval of the pending Joint Resolution 7 filed by Bayan Muna as early as August 25, 2010 in the House of Representatives calling for the scrapping of the VFA. The said joint resolution is of the same nature as Joint Resolution 3 filed in the Senate by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago also in 2010. Pres. Aquino has refused to terminate the VFA. If both Houses pass both joint resolutions they have the effect of a law. It by-passes Pres. Aquino and ends the much maligned Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States after more than a decade of existence without need of presidential approval.

Article III and Article VII of the VFA provides that:

Article III: Entry and Departure

1. The Government of the Philippines shall facilitate the admission of United States personnel and their departure from the Philippines in connection with activities covered by this agreement.

2. United States military personnel shall be exempt from passport and visa regulations upon entering and departing the Philippines.

3. The following documents only, which shall be presented on demand, shall be required in respect of United States military personnel who enter the Philippines:

(a) personal identity card issued by the appropriate United States authority showing full name, date of birth, rank or grade and service number (if any), branch of service and photograph; and

(b) individual or collective document issued by the appropriate United States authority, authorizing the travel or visit and identifying the individual or group as United States military personnel.

(c) the commanding officer of a military aircraft or vessel shall present a declaration of health, and when required by the cognizant representative of the Government of the Philippines, shall conduct a quarantine inspection and will certify that the aircraft or vessel is free from quarantinable diseases. Any quarantine inspection of United States aircraft or United States vessels or cargoes thereon shall be conducted by the United States commanding officer in accordance with the international health regulations as promulgated by the World Health Organization, and mutually agreed procedures.

4. United States civilian personnel shall be exempt from visa requirements but shall present, upon demand, valid passports upon entry and departure of the Philippines.

Article VII: Importation and Exportation

1. United States Government equipment, materials, supplies, and other property imported into or acquired in the Philippines by or on behalf of the United States armed forces in connection with activities to which this agreement applies, shall be free of all Philippine duties, taxes and other similar charges. Title to such property shall remain with the United States, which may remove such property from the Philippines at any time, free from export duties, taxes, and other similar charges.

The exemptions provided in this paragraph shall also extend to any duty, tax, or other similar charges which would otherwise be assessed upon such property after importation into, or acquisition within, the Philippines. Such property may be removed from the Philippines, or disposed of therein, provided that disposition of such property in the Philippines to persons or entities not entitled to exemption from applicable taxes and duties shall be subject to payment of such taxes, and duties and prior approval of the Philippine Government.

2. Reasonable quantities of personal baggage, personal effects, and other property for the personal use of United States personnel may be imported into and used in the Philippines free of all duties, taxes and other similar charges during the period of their temporary stay in the Philippines.

Transfers to persons or entities in the Philippines not entitled to import privileges may only be made upon prior approval of the appropriate Philippine authorities including payment by the recipient of applicable duties and taxes imposed in accordance with the laws of the Philippines.

The exportation of such property and of property acquired in the Philippines by United States personnel shall be free of all Philippine duties, taxes, and other similar charges.

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