MANILA – The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Patriotic Alliance) said Wednesday the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is a “public hazard” because it exempts visiting American troops from health inspection by Philippines authorities, even at a time of high alert against such diseases as the swine flu.
Passed by the Senate and signed by then-President Joseph Estrada in 1999, the VFA grants “extraterritorial and extrajudicial rights” to US servicemen visiting the Philippines. It made possible the Balikatan military exercises, which have been held annually since 2002.
Article 3, Section 3(c) of the VFA states that the commanding officer of a US military aircraft or vessel “shall present a declaration of health, and when required by the cognizant representative of the Government of the Philippines, shall conduct a quarantine inspection and will certify that the aircraft or vessel is free from quarantinable diseases. Any quarantine inspection of United States aircraft, or vessels, or cargoes thereon, shall be conducted by the United States commanding officer in accordance with the international health regulations as promulgated by the World Health Organization, and mutually agreed procedures.”
This provision, said Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes Jr., deprives the Philippine government of the right to determine the health status of visiting US troops. Manila, he said, “will merely rely on the report of the commanding officer of the aircraft or vessel. This restricts the Philippine government from undertaking all the necessary precautions and efforts to detect and control contagious diseases.”
Reyes pointed out that under the VFA, US commanders are not required to have their troops subjected to thermal scans, health surveillance and other standard operating procedures that are usually undertaken by host governments in civilian ports of entry. “All the US forces need to present is a declaration of health,” Reyes pointed out.
“Even in matters of public health, Philippine sovereignty is undermined by the VFA,” Reyes added. “The Philippine Department of Health and our health professionals should not stand for this. Everyone else entering the country is subjected to inspection and scanning. Even the returning congressmen from Las Vegas will be subjected to inspection. Why are US troops being exempted?” he said, referring to the Filipino legislators who watched the boxing match between Manny Pacquiao and Ricky Hatton.
Reyes also noted that the VFA exempts US troops from passport and visa requirements, and does not require them to go through the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation (BID) and present information on their individual medical status.
“The US commanders will simply issue a collective or group identification,” Reyes said. “They are not even required to state what countries they have recently visited to enable us to know if they pose any health risks.”
Reyes challenged Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro, who used to head the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC), to take a clear stand on the matter. “Having expressed his concern over disasters and calamities, Mr. Teodoro should take a good look at this provision (of the VFA that) endangers the safety of Filipinos,” Reyes said. (Bulatlat.com)