VFA imperfect but necessary: Romulo

SAN ANTONIO, Philippines (June 30, 2014) U.S. Marines assigned 1st Battalion 8th Marine Regiment, Bravo Company, conduct a joint amphibious landing exercises with Philippine marines during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines 2014. In its 20th year, CARAT is an annual, bilateral exercise series with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the armed forces of nine partner nations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gilbert A. Bolibol/Released)

SAN ANTONIO, Philippines (June 30, 2014) U.S. Marines assigned 1st Battalion 8th Marine Regiment, Bravo Company, conduct a joint amphibious landing exercises with Philippine marines during Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Philippines 2014. In its 20th year, CARAT is an annual, bilateral exercise series with the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and the armed forces of nine partner nations. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Gilbert A. Bolibol/Released)

MANILA (Mabuhay) – Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario admitted Thursday that there are flaws in the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and United States, but said abrogating it at this time would interrupt the two allies’ ongoing defense cooperation.

“It’s not a perfect agreement,” Del Rosario said. “It’s an imperfect agreement but given that, it’s not plausible for us to amend at this time.”

The VFA, ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, allows American troops to take part in large-scale military exercises with their Philippine counterparts in the country.

Anti-US sentiments, including calls for the termination of the VFA, have been revived following the Oct. 11 killing of Filipino transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in Olongapo City. A US Marine, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, is facing a murder complaint in connection with Laude’s killing.

The VFA states that the Philippines has jurisdiction over the case, but the primary custody of the accused lies with the US “from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

Manila has a similar agreement with Australia, called the State of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), which was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 2012.

Compared to the US VFA, Del Rosario said, the provision on custody under the accord with Australia “is more balanced.”

But re-negotiating the VFA with the US means the Philippine government would have to terminate it first, Del Rosario explained.

“We need to abrogate and if we abrogate, it interrupts the benefit of the mutual defense treaty with regards to joint exercise between our two armed forces,” he said. “It consequences the modernization, the joint training, the inter-operability.

“I think the Visiting Forces Agreement is a necessary element of the Mutual Defense Treaty because as I said it defines the behavior of the visiting forces,” Del Rosario said, referring to the 1951 agreement between the Philippines and the US, which obliges Washington to come to Manila’s aid in the event of an armed foreign attack.

The killing of Laude occurred months after the two long-time allies signed a new defense accord, called the Enhanced Cooperation Agreement or EDCA, in April this year. EDCA would allow greater US troops’ access to Philippine bases and presence in the country, but it can not be enforced until questions on its legality is resolved in the Supreme Court.

Both nations’ desire to bolster military cooperation came as Manila confronts Asian military giant China over disputed territories in the South China Sea and America’s planned “pivot” to the Asian region after years of military pre-occupation in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. (MNS)

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