AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. (left) and US Marine officials inspect the 20-ft. shipping container which was converted into a temporary detention cell for USMC Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, suspect in the killing of Filipino transgender woman Jeffrey Laude, in Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday, October 22. (MNS photo)

AFP chief Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr. (left) and US Marine officials inspect the 20-ft. shipping container which was converted into a temporary detention cell for USMC Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, suspect in the killing of Filipino transgender woman Jeffrey Laude, in Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday, October 22. (MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) – Akbayan party-list Rep. Walden Bello on Monday filed a joint resolution calling for the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, claiming the US is using the treaty to evade accountability for the crimes its soldiers are implicated in.

House Joint Resolution No. 19 cites as bases for the VFA’s termination the acts committed by US personnel on Philippine soil that are contrary to the 1987 Philippine Constitution, human rights standards, criminal statutes, and norms and standards concerning the protection and conservation of the environment.

The proposed joint resolution also directs the Foreign Affairs Secretary to serve notice of the VFA’s termination to the US government.

“This is a resolution whose time has come. We’re happy to be together with the office of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago in filing this,” Bello told reporters after filing the proposal.

Bello said the killing of transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude allegedly by a US Marine earlier this month is just the latest addition to the list of offenses committed by the US since the VFA was ratified in 1999.

Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton is facing a murder complaint in connection with the killing of Laude on Oct. 11 in Olongapo City. At present, Pemberton is detained in Camp Aguinaldo.

Other US violations

In his resolution, Bello enumerated the other supposed violations the US military has reportedly committed in the span of 15 years the VFA has been in place:

the 2005 Subic rape case,

the USS Guardian’s destruction of Tubbataha Reef, and

the hazardous waste dumping by US Navy contractor Glen Defense Marine Asia.

Citing these incidents, Bello said it is clear “the VFA has not served the interests of the Philippines since its inception.”

“[T]here is a clear trend that the US government is not mindful in observing and respecting Philippine laws being violated by elements of its military visiting the Philippines,” he said, adding that the US has resorted to invoking the VFA to evade accountability every time its military personnel violate Philippine laws.

“The above-mentioned incidents show that the VFA is used to shield  transgressions made by US military on Philippine soil and that the Agreement seriously infringe[s] our country’s ability to prosecute these criminal acts,” he said.

Different position from PNoy admin

A political ally of President Aquino, Bello nonetheless believes the VFA and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) signed by Philippine and US officials earlier this year are disadvantageous to national interest.

The EDCA is a 10-year defense pact that will allow an enlarged rotational presence of American presence in the country.

“We have made it quite clear to the President, the executive branch and the Department of Foreign Affairs that on the issue of the VFA and EDCA, we’re holding a different position from the administration,” he said.

Asked about Aquino’s response to the proposal, Bello said: “The President has told us he respects the difference [in our opinions].”

Aquino has maintained that there is no reason for the government to junk the VFA even after Laude’s death.

Bello expressed optimism his colleagues in the House will be more open to discussing the possible termination of the VFA following Laude’s death.

“It might look like an uphill battle at this point, but the situation is very fluid. Politicians, especially [those at the] center, are very sensitive to public opinion. This is a timely resolution we should be examining at this point because the Pemberton case is no ordinary case,” he said.

A similar joint resolution has been filed by members of the Makabayan bloc last October 16. (MNS)