Republic of the Philippines
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
Second Regular Session
HOUSE RESOLUTION NO. 1020
INTRODUCED by Reps. SATUR C. OCAMPO and TEODORO A. CASIÑO (Bayan Muna),
LIZA L. MAZA and LUZVIMINDA C. ILAGAN (Gabriela), and RAFAEL V. MARIANO (Anakpawis)
DIRECTING THE COMMITTEES ON FOREIGN AFFAIRS AND NATIONAL DEFENSE AND SECURITY TO JOINTLY OR SEPARATELY CONDUCT AN INQUIRY, IN AID OF LEGISLATION, ON THE IMPACT OF THE RP-US BALIKATAN JOINT MILITARY EXERCISES TO OUR NATION’S SOVEREIGNTY AND THE SAFETY OF THE PEOPLE IN THE BICOL REGION
WHEREAS, the Bicol region has the distinction of having the last Filipino General to surrender during the Philippine-American war – General Simeon A. Ola – who along with other patriots, fervently defended the region and the whole country against the American colonizers;
WHEREAS, a new type of invasion is happening in Bicol in the form of the RP-US Balikatan (Shoulder-to-Shoulder) exercises that will see thousands of US troops enter four provinces of the region from February 25 to April 30, 2009;
WHEREAS, Balikatan 2009 is to be the 25th annual event of its kind under the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) of 1951 and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Both the US and Philippine national governments claim that this event shall comprise “humanitarian missions” in Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate;
WHEREAS, the Balikatan exercises and the VFA violate our national sovereignty because they cause the prolonged presence of foreign troops on Philippine soil despite the absence of any basing treaty;
WHEREAS, the VFA, as crafted and implemented, does not specify or limit the number of US troops allowed entry into the Philippines or delineate the areas and activities in the country that the “visiting” troops can have access to for a particular time frame. The VFA allows US troops to enter military camps, civilian facilities and even areas of actual internal armed conflicts such as Sulu and Basilan provinces;
WHEREAS, the VFA does not specify or limit the duration of the stay of the “visiting” US forces. The agreement’s vagueness in this respect allows the continuing, even if rotational, presence of US troops in the Philippines;
WHEREAS, the VFA does not explicitly prohibit activities that violate our Constitution, such as direct combat involvement of US forces. The VFA allows the US to deploy an unlimited number of troops, for an unspecified duration, anywhere in country for a broad range of activities that may not be limited to “joint exercises;”
WHEREAS, since the “visiting” US troops are not required to present visas like other foreign visitors, there is really no way under the VFA for the public to know how long they actually stay, when they will leave and when they would return;
WHEREAS, the presence of US troops, even if on a rotational basis, has become permanent. For example the structures in Camp Navarro in Zamboanga have been ‘permanently occupied’ by US Special Forces, 365 days a year, for almost six years now;
WHEREAS, there are several “exercises” and activities between US and RP armed forces throughout the year, all of which are said to be approved by the Mutual Defense Board. However, there have been many conflicting statements from the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and other government officials on whether or not the current batch of US forces (both in civilian clothes and in combat fatigues) in the country are covered by any joint exercise;
WHEREAS, according to Major Ramon Zagala, AFP spokesperson for the annual Balikatan, about 6,000 US troops will join 2,500 Filipino soldiers in “humanitarian missions” and “civic actions” from April 16 to 28 with the main part of the exercises to take place at Filipino military bases north and south of Manila;
WHEREAS, Maj. Zagala also said that the US government would spend at least US$2 million on the exercises and would bring in a number of warships and aircraft, including F-16 fighter planes into the country. He also added that US military medics and engineers would also conduct clinics and build schools and other basic infrastructure in the Bicol region;
WHEREAS, the terms “humanitarian mission” and “civic action” have become the standard response of both the AFP and the US embassy every time US forces get involved in incidents that are not covered by the VFA, such as operating unmanned spy planes, or being part of AFP military convoys that engage in combat missions;
WHEREAS, the use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV) by US forces in Mindanao and now in Bicol have been reported in media. The Mindanao Examiner reported that a UAV crashed in Jolo, Sulu (February 2006); an unmanned spy plane reportedly crashed in Mount Tumatangis in Jolo (November 2005); and a Predator-type drone crashed in the sea off Zamboanga City (March 2002);
WHEREAS, various media reports have said that “the US military has a fleet of various unmanned spy planes, from palm-size remote-controlled aircraft to bigger and sophisticated high-altitude, long-range, remotely piloted vehicles designed for long-endurance photographic reconnaissance and electronic surveillance missions, and as attack aircrafts;”
WHEREAS, the AFP has defended presence of US spy planes. Maj. Gamal Hayudini, a spokesperson for the AFP Southern Command, told the Zamboanga Journal that “there is nothing to fear about the US drones. It is being used to survey areas where humanitarian activities will be jointly undertaken by US and Philippine troops.” This does not answer who controls the surveillance equipment, grants authority for its use and who are the targets of spying;
WHEREAS, the use of these UAVs are not limited to surveillance activities. They can also be used as lethal offensive weapons, such as the cases of US forces in Pakistan, Iraq and Afghanistan;
WHEREAS, on January 29, 2009 around 6:30pm, a US UAV drone crashed between the towns of Esperanza and Pio V. Corpuz in Masbate province;
WHEREAS, sometime in January 2009, a US naval officer visited several hospitals in Albay province, asking health care personnel if they had orthopedic facilities. This also shows that US are preparing to do “war games” and possibly participate in direct combat operations with the AFP;
WHEREAS, “humanitarian missions” and “civic actions” are part of the “communications strategy” being employed by the US armed forces to justify their continued presence in the country as stated in the Strategic Communication document of the US Pacific Command (PACOM) Pacific Joint Training Strategy. Such activities are undertaken “to educate elected officials, opinion leaders and the public on the importance of military training; build public trust and support of training activities; portray the cost of readiness and potential impact of not being ready…and highlight the military as good stewards of the environment;”
WHEREAS, humanitarian missions are not the main activities of US Special Forces in previous joint exercises in Central Luzon, Mindanao and Panay. It will not be different in the exercises to be launched in Bicol. They are merely part of a “communications strategy” that is subsumed to strategic US military thrusts. In the US Pacific Command Joint Training Strategy 2007, the umbrella plan for activities such as the Balikatan, it stated that “the overarching goal of the Pacific Joint Training Strategy is to ensure U.S. forces are ready to respond promptly and effectively to any and all contingencies that may confront our nation;”
WHEREAS, it has been ten years since the VFA came into effect. Under this agreement, especially from 2002 to the present, various illegal and criminal activities involving American troops have placed the general safety of the local people into question;
WHEREAS, there is a pressing need to look into the current tack of the AFP interpreting foreign policy and the application of relevant treaties and agreements with regard to the Balikatan exercises;
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, AS IT IS HEREBY RESOLVED, that the Committees on Foreign Relations and National Defense and Security, jointly or separately, conduct an inquiry, in aid of legislation, on the impact of Balikatan exercises to our nation’s sovereignty and the safety of the people in the Bicol region.
SATUR C. OCAMPO TEODORO A. CASIÑO LIZA L. MAZA
Bayan Muna Party List Bayan Muna Party List Gabriela Womens Party
LUZVIMINDA C. ILAGAN RAFAEL V. MARIANO
Gabriela Womens Party Anakpawis Party List
Secret VFA document Revs Up the Anti-VFA and Anti- Balikatan Caravan
The exposure of a secret Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) document that favors the United States further riled the organizers and participants of the Bicol-wide anti-VFA caravan.
The secret VFA document states that the custody US troops found guilty of any crime will fall under negotiation but Filipino troops found guilty will fall under the custody of the US.
According to Prof. Jocelyn Bisuña, spokesperson of the Bikolano Alliance for Nationalism against Balikatan (BAN BALIKATAN); “This is further proof of the inequality of the VFA and a slap on our sovereignty. It is an affront to our nationhood and we have to stand against this.”
“This further strengthened our resolve to push through and even surpass our targets on our anti-VFA caravan. We will not be deterred by military and police harassments and delaying tactics,” added Bisuña.
“Starting February 22 thousands of anti-VFA participants from Masbate, Catanduanes, Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay and Sorsogon will converge and immerse in all the provinces to expose the evils of the VFA and the Balikatan exercises and call for their abolition,” added the patriotic professor.
“This will serve as a massive information and education machinery that will sow the seeds of nationalism among Bicolanos and the whole nation. We are warning the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) not harass or delay the caravan because we are just exercising our rights and they should serve Filipinos and not the US. If not then the military institution will further be exposed as a stooge of the US,” ended Bisuña.
MANILA, Philippines – Senators yesterday sought the review, suspension and scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) pending clarification of some of its provisions involving the custody of convicted rapist US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan filed yesterday a resolution calling for the termination of the VFA for violating the 1987 Philippine Constitution.
In his two-page Resolution No. 892, Pangilinan said the circumstances and decisions made in Smith’s case, particularly the agreement between Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney and the Medellin vs Texas case in the US in March 2008, have rendered the VFA unconstitutional.
In the Medellin case, he noted the US Supreme Court upheld “a treaty, even if ratified by the US Senate, is not enforceable as domestic federal law in the US, unless the US enacts the implementing legislation, or the treaty by its terms is self-executory and ratified by the US Senate as such.
“This clearly violates our constitutional provision on the presence of foreign military bases, troops, or facilities in the country since one of the conditions is lacking, to wit: to recognize it as a treaty by the other contracting state,” the resolution reads.
The resolution calls for the expression of “the sense of the Senate that Philippine sovereignty should be respected by other states and should in no way be put in jeopardy by any treaty or agreements previously entered (into) by the Philippine government.”
“Their Supreme Court (SC) rendered the VFA unconstitutional in the Philippine territory and now they invoke this unconstitutional agreement to keep a convicted rapist out of our reach,” Pangilinan added.
In separate statements, Senators Rodolfo Biazon, Pia Cayetano, Francis Escudero and Mar Roxas insisted that Philippine law must be upheld over the VFA.
The Senate committee on foreign relations headed by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago is set to conduct a hearing regarding Smith’s detention on Feb. 19.
The committee will consult experts consisting of international law experts from academe and other fields.
“We have requested them to advise the committee on the steps that could be taken by the Philippine government to implement the Supreme Court decision that RP-US should immediately negotiate the transfer of Smith from the US Embassy premises to Philippine jail premises,” said Santiago who, along with Sen. Joker Arroyo, had earlier called for the scrapping of the accord.
But for Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, caution must be observed before calling for the abrogation of the accord.
Enrile said that the SC had already recognized the validity of VFA.
Enrile added that VFA “is a separate issue from the custody of Smith.”
But Enrile recognized that it is the CA that should decide where to detain Smith because based on his own understanding of criminal law and procedures, “an accused that is charged should be under the control and jurisdiction of the court.”
Biazon, for his part, said VFA activities must be suspended while the “jurisdiction” issue on Smith has not been resolved.
Escudero, for his part, had branded the Arroyo administration as a “coward and fearful of the US government with its indecision to execute the SC’s ruling on the case of convicted rapist Smith.”
Cayetano also backed calls for the suspension of VFA, saying the Department of Foreign Affairs’ hesitation to take custody of Smith despite the SC ruling “once more exposes Malacañang’s contempt for the rule of law.”
Roxas said he supports calls to scrap the RP-US VFA if the Philippine government could not impose its own laws on Smith’s case.
Palace urges caution
Malacañang, on the other hand, said legislators who want to abrogate the VFA must exercise caution.
Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro Jr., in an interview yesterday, said abrogating the VFA cannot be done unilaterally by the Philippine government since this was a bilateral agreement.
Teodoro emphasized that the Philippine government and the Senate approved the VFA in its entirety in spite of the flaws that are now emerging in the case of Smith.
“It’s a binding treaty which the Senate approved in toto during its time and under the principle of pacta sunt servanda (agreements must be kept), we have to comply with its terms in good faith,” Teodoro said.
He said that in spite of the flaws in the VFA between the Philippines and the United States, the critics of this agreement have no choice but to accept this for the meantime, Teodoro said.
“This case of Smith is one single case. It has aroused a lot of public anger but it’s a single case and probably, when enough time has elapsed for passions to subside, then we can view what really happened (and) maybe, there may be a need (to renegotiate),” Teodoro said.
Teodoro emphasized though that both countries have to agree to renegotiate before a review can be conducted by either side.
But Associate Justice Adolfo Azcuna said the Supreme Court (SC) decision ordering Smith’s transfer to Philippine custody and upholding the VFA is not yet final and may not be immediately executory.
“The decision is not yet final. It is still hanging in a way. So we have to wait as the events unfold,” Azcuna, who penned last week’s ruling, told reporters in an interview.
Azcuna, who retired from the judiciary yesterday, reiterated that the Philippines could only rely on the “good faith“ of the US government in honoring the VFA, which states that Smith’s detention should be under Philippine authority.
“We have to presume that parties to a treaty will negotiate with good faith. Let the Court decide as events unfold,” Azcuna explained.
Smith, who was a participant in the 2005 Balikatan exercises, was found guilty by Makati RTC Judge Benjamin Pozon of raping a 22-year-old Filipina in 2005 inside the Subic Bay Freeport and was sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Smith was, however, transferred to US custody following an agreement between Foreign Secretary Romulo and Ambassador Kenney.
Voting 9-4 with two inhibitions, the SC ruled that the Romulo-Kenney agreement was not in accordance with the VFA, which clearly stated that the custody of convicted American personnel should be held “by Philippine authorities.”
The High Court ordered the DFA to agree with US representatives for Smith’s transfer to the custody of Philippine authorities, banking on “good faith” of the US in complying with the provisions of the VFA.
Meanwhile, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) said that the issues surrounding Smith’s custody would not affect the conduct of US-RP bilateral military exercises in Bicol at the end of February, and these would go on as scheduled amid opposition from militant groups, AFP public affairs deputy chief and Balikatan spokesman Maj. Ramon Zagala said in an interview at Camp Aguinaldo yesterday.
Militant groups like the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), Reps. Satur Ocampo and Teddy Casiño of Bayan Muna, and Liza Maza and Luzviminda Ilagan of women’s group Gabriela yesterday urged the government to call off the scheduled Balikatan exercises and abrogate the VFA.
The leftist lawmakers also have revived their Resolution 458 at the House of Representatives, which sought to “abrogate” the Philippines’ VFA with the US, citing its “onerous provisions” that tied the hands of Philippine authorities.
Zagala, for his part, said groups who are opposing the Balikatan and pushing for the scrapping of the VFA should study their position very well instead of making sweeping statements, because the treaty is anchored on the country’s defense in case of attack by an external force.
Meanwhile, despite threats from the New People’s Army, American military trainers participated in yesterday’s civic action and medical-dental mission in Barangay Aglololoway, Jamindan town, Capiz in Iloilo.