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Archive for August, 2009

10 years after, why are US troops still here?

MANILA, Philippines—“Life will go on” in the event the country junks the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Sunday.

Santiago said in a dzBB radio interview Sunday that she would seek the scrapping of the pact altogether should the US reject proposals to renegotiate the VFA.

Santiago, who chairs the Senate foreign relations committee, said she would have its members sign on Tuesday the committee report containing the findings and recommendations of the just-concluded Senate hearing into the VFA.

She said she would then sponsor a resolution on the floor “expressing the sense of the Senate that the Secretary of Foreign Affairs should seek to renegotiate the VFA with the US, and in case of denial, that we should give notice of its termination.”

“We want Foreign Secretary (Alberto) Romulo to ask the US embassy to discuss the VFA because of questions over whether US troops do engage in combat operations here instead of just training our soldiers,” Santiago said.

According to Santiago, there were also questions as to why after 10 years, US troops were still here when the agreement was only supposed to be a “visiting forces” pact.

“If they don’t want to negotiate with us, then we can give them notice,” she said, pointing out that as provided for in the VFA, the agreement may be abrogated by either party giving six months’ notice.

Pass in plenary

Santiago expressed confidence that members of her committee would support the resolution. She believes all the senators would also approve the resolution.

“I think it will pass (in the plenary) because it’s not calling for the outright termination of the VFA but a renegotiation…If they don’t want to renegotiate, we don’t have a choice but to terminate it,” she said.

The Senate resolution would then be transmitted for the consideration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who has the sole power to terminate the agreement.

Last week, Santiago called for a Senate hearing into the VFA following announcements by US defense officials that they had decided to keep a 600-member US special force in the country indefinitely.

After the hearing, Santiago said she would push for the abrogation of the treaty because it was “very vague” since it seemed to allow US troops to get involved in combat operations against the enemies of the state.

Reports that American forces had engaged in combat operations against the Abu Sayyaf bandit group in Mindanao as early as 2002 should be looked into by the Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement, Malacañang said Saturday.

“These reports should be looked into by the appropriate body, and the appropriate body is the VFA Commission,” said Press Secretary Cerge Remonde over radio dzRB.

Shot by black soldier

Civilian accounts had surfaced as early as 2002 that US soldiers joined Philippine troops in operations against the Abu Sayyaf in the jungles of Sulu, Basilan and Tawi-Tawi, according to reports.

Buyung-buyung Isnijal, a farmer, claimed he was shot by a “black” soldier during a July 25, 2002, raid on his home in Tuburan town by elements of the 18th Infantry Battalion. Isnijal was a suspected Abu Sayyaf bandit.

Investigation by the Commission on Human Rights found that an African-American soldier, Sgt. Reggie Lane, had been assigned with the 18th IB in Lamitan, Basilan.

“We have to establish if that’s true. That should be investigated. It’s easy to concoct stories,” Secretary Raul Gonzalez, presidential chief legal counsel, said in a phone interview.

If proven true, Gonzalez said this could be grounds to seek a review of the VFA, which came into force in 1999.

He had earlier said he would ask President Arroyo to convince the US government

to agree to a review, and if possible, a renegotiation.

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