June 6, 2012
Multisectoral group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) today picketed the Senate, which is expected to vote on the ratification of the Philippines – Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA).
The treaty was certified as urgent by Malacañang and was sponsored last Monday by Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the upper chamber’s foreign affairs committee. Senators are expected to vote on the SOVFA today.
Under the SOVFA, Australian forces will regularly “visit” the country for “combined training, joint exercises, or other activities”.
Bayan asked the Senators to learn from the country’s bitter experience under the VFA with the US and seriously rethink the ratification of the SOVFA. The VFA with the Americans was ratified in 1998 and has since faced strong opposition from nationalist and progressive groups and even several legislators due to sovereignty issues and abuses committed by visiting US troops.
“At the very minimum, the Senate should not rush the ratification of the SOVFA and give in to the pressure from Malacañang and Australia. There is no compelling reason to hurry its approval while there are certainly very compelling reasons to be extra cautious given the still unresolved controversies in a similar agreement with the Americans,” said Eleanor de Guzman, Bayan deputy secretary general.
The group pointed out that President Benigno Aquino III promised a review of the VFA with the US, which has been heavily criticized following the Subic rape case involving US marine Daniel Smith in 2006. There are also unanswered concerns about the permanent presence in the country of some 600 US special forces under so-called rotational deployment since 2001.
The US is taking advantage of the vagueness of the VFA to skirt various constitutional provisions including on criminal jurisdiction and presence of foreign troops, among others.
“Until today, the public hasn’t seen even the shadow of this review. It alarms us that Aquino, instead of fulfilling his campaign promise of addressing the issues on the VFA, is lobbying for a treaty that is being criticized for the same vagueness as the agreement with the Americans,” de Guzman said.
Bayan said it will continue opposing the VFA with the US and the impending deal with Australia.
“Government has been violating the rights of our people such as Nicole in the Subic rape case. If we allow the SOVFA to be ratified and the VFA to continue, we will legitimize and perpetuate such grave injustice,” added de Guzman. #