Bishop: Make public the TORs on VFA

Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews
Sunday, 28 September 2008 20:21
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DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/27 September) — Bishop Felixberto Calang, lead convenor of US Troops Out Now! Mindanao Coalition has proposed to the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Foces Agreement (LOVFA) to require “full disclosure to the public” of all the Terms of Reference “governing every form of US military presence in the country.”

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The last time a TOR was made was during the Balikatan 02-1 in 2002, as protests mounted against the holding of the military exercise without it.

No other TOR has been made after that and since July 2002, when the American troops were supposed to have left the country, some were left behind allegedly to finish humanitarian projects but their presence in the country, particularly in Mindanao has been continuous.

This as Senator Rodolfo Biazon, committee vice chair who once served as Armed Forces Chief of Staff, demanded a copy of the “rules of engagement,” adding he “objected to certain provisions of this in 2002.”

“If those objections of mine were not considered and were adopted and still in existence today are the same rules of engagement, then we are going to be in deep trouble,” he said at the LOVFA hearing at the Senate’s Pecson Room in Pasay City last Thursday.

Calang made five recommendations to the committee, on top of which is the “abrogation of the VFA, Mutual Logistics Support Agreement and the Mutual Defense Treaty, and the eventual pull out of all US military personnel from the Philippine territory.”

In the meantime, he said, “require full disclosure to the public of the Terms of Reference governing every form of US military presence in the country, past and ongoing, such as the USS Vandegrift tours of duty, the participation of US military ‘experts’ in the investigation of bombings incidents, the intelligence gathering activities of US military personnel and their presence in conflict areas.”

Calang also urged the LOVFA to “conduct onsite visits and inspection of facilities, with accompanying civil society organizations, where US military personnel and/or their equipment and infrastructure are established, requiring the US government to open said facilities for inspection.”

He also urged the committee to “conduct onsite public hearings and investigations regarding the presence of US military personnel in the country so as to determine the scope, involvement and intervention of the US government in the Philippines affairs” and to “establish a mechanism to involve civil society organizations’ participation in the LOVFA.”

On the civil society participation in the LOVFA, the bishop urged the committee to “provide political and material support to said organizations engaged in the monitoring and advocacy for national sovereignty, and opposed to all forms of foreign intervention.”

Then US Ambassador to Manila Francis Ricciardone told MindaNews in a February 2005 interview that they had “established a semi-continuous, not permanent, but semi-continuous (military presence), that is to say, some number of our personnel, rotate, at the pleasure of the command, your command…It’s a high-priced consultancy, only we’re doing it for free. And the second your command says it’s not useful, we leave.”

Retired General Edilberto Adan, now executive director of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement, says the presence of US troops in the Philippine is “beneficial to our people,” citing in dollars and cents these so-called benefits, and that it is through the VFA “that our country can better protect its sovereignty as it lives up to its obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the United States.”

But Senator Miriam Santiago, Committee chair, asked during the hearing Undersecretary Teresita Domingo of the Department of Justice “how do you reconcile the VIFA with the MDT?”

Santiago said the VFA “is based on the MDT but MDT allows American military presence on Philippine territories in cases of external armed attack only.”

“But under the VFA, the American military presence is apparently being justified on domestic counter-terrorism effort. How do you reconcile the VFA with MDT?” Santiago asked.

Domingo, citing Supreme Court rulings, said the VFA “is based upon the Mutual Defense Treaty and insofar as VFA is concerned, this allows the presence of US military. It is the one that controls the entry that determines the entry and the stay of…”

“But MDT speaks only of an external armed attack. Is it the position of DOJ that there is an external armed attack on Philippines at this time?” Santiago asked.

Domingo replied, “It is not the position of the DOJ that there is external attack on the Philippines at this time.”

“If there is no such thing since VFA is based on the MDT, there is no legal basis for the American military presence, you see,” Santiago pointed out.

“The American military presence here is now based on the VFA,” Domingo responded.

“But the VFA is based on the MDT,” Santiago said.

She suggested that the issue be resolved in closed-door session. (Carolyn O. Arguillas/MindaNews)

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