BINAY BACKS SENATE MOVE TO ABROGATE VFA

PRESS RELEASE
24 SEPTEMBER 2009
REF: JOEY SALGADO

BINAY BACKS SENATE MOVE TO ABROGATE VFA; SAYS ARROYO ADMIN MUST ANSWER CHARGES OF ALLOWING US TO EXPAND MILITARY BASES IN RP DESPITE CONSTITUTIONAL BAN

Makati Mayor and United Opposition (UNO) president Jejomar C. Binay today said the Arroyo administration must answer charges that it has allowed the United States to expand its military presence in the country despite the constitutional ban on foreign military bases.

At the same time, Binay backed the Senate move to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), saying the lopsided accord should be corrected to emphasize Philippine sovereignty.

In a statement from Geneva, Switzerland where he is attending the World Scouting Conference in his capacity as its Asia-Pacific chair, Binay said it is high time that the United States “recognizes the Philippines as an equal partner, and show respect for our sovereignty.”

“The administration of US President Barack Obama has always emphasized the importance of cooperation between nations. It follows that such an approach should be premised on respect for sovereignty, and treating other nations as equal partners,” he said.

“The VFA is a lopsided agreement that needs to be immediately rectified,” he added.

The opposition leader said the Arroyo administration has yet to respond to reports made by international policy groups on growing US presence in the Philippines , which is seen as a circumvention of the Constitutional provision banning US bases.

Binay cited the increasing number of US military exercises since 2001, reports of the growing number of port visits by US warships and the alleged “underreported presence” of a unit of US Special Operations Forces stationed continuously and indefinitely in various camps throughout Mindanao since 2002.

Senators approved on second reading Wednesday a resolution urging Malacañang to abrogate the VFA, should the US object to a renegotiation.

Senate Resolution No. 1356 authored by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago asked the administration to give the US a notice of termination in case US officials object to a renegotiation.

Binay said the unfairness of the VFA was again highlighted when US Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith was flown out of the country a day after the Court of Appeals overturned his 2006 conviction for rape. Smith had been found guilty of raping a Filipina the year before.

Authorities quarreled publicly over the incident, with Interior and Local Government officials saying it was in violation of a custodial agreement with security officers of the US embassy, and Foreign Affairs officials maintaining that there are different rules governing the handling of US military personnel involved in criminal cases in the Philippines .

Such a revelation clinches the case for the abrogation of the VFA, Binay said.

International observers have said the US is intent on increasing its presence in Southeast Asia to counter the growing influence of China is the region.

While originally premised on the war against terrorist groups in the region, the US is transforming its presence in the Philippines “to heighten its capacity for intervention within the country and region,” according to the group Focus for the Global South in a report titled “At the Door of All the East: The Philippines in United States Military Strategy.”

The report said because of its strategic location, the Philippines is among the countries where the US wants to set up bases but is unable to do so because of the ban imposed in the Constitution.

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