By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The Supreme Court’s (SC) recent resolution upholding with finality the constitutionality of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) sends a wrong message to victims of US atrocities, warned a Mindanao coalition.
Bishop Rudy Juliada, spokesperson of US troops Out Now!-Mindanao, said the resolution will further discourage victims from pursuing cases against the perpetrators, specifically if these involved US soldiers.
The SC, in a two-page resolution dated Jan. 12 but released only Tuesday, upheld its Feb. 11, 2009, ruling on the constitutionality of the agreement. The high court said the petitioners failed to present new arguments. ?
The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and former senate president Jovito Salonga challenged anew the legality of the military accord at the height of the rape case involving US serviceman Daniel Smith. Smith was convicted in 2006 by the Makati Regional Trial Court of raping a Filipina “Nicole” but was later acquitted by the Court of Appeals.
The petitioners, in a 45-page joint motion for reconsideration, cited the existence of a secret “VFA-II” complementary agreement that gave US troops preferential treatment over their Filipino counterparts.??Article VIII on “Criminal Jurisdiction” under VFA-II gives the US government custody over accused Philippine military personnel visiting the US.??Consistently, Article IX of VFA-II on Confinement and Visitation states: “Confinement imposed by a United States federal or state court upon Republic of the Philippines personnel shall be served in penal institutions in the United States suitable for the custody level of the prisoners chosen after consultation between the two governments.”?
“How vastly unfair the VFA is can be discerned from a comparison of its provisions with those in the ‘Agreement between the Government of the United States and the Government of the Republic of the Philippines regarding the treatment of Republic of the Philippines personnel visiting the United States of America’ or popularly known as VFA II,” the petitioners said.??They argued that the VFA is unconstitutional and void because an integral part of it, the VFA-II, was not included in the Senate deliberations and resolutions of concurrence.??“The powers, rights and privileges given to the US under the VFA and VFA-II, in stark contrast to the lack thereof on the part of the Philippines under both agreements, would have stopped the Philippine Senate from concurring in the VFA had they been informed of VFA-II. For VFA-II aggravates the lack of reciprocity and mutuality in the VFA,” the petitioners said.??It was in 1999, after the ratification of the VFA, that Bayan first questioned the constitutionality of the accord.
“The permanent and continuing presence of US troops, as well as their combat involvement, will not go unchallenged and unnoticed. In time, the contradictions between the presence of foreign troops and our own national interests will come out in the open again,” said Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr. ?
Bishop Juliada reiterated that there are still several unresolved cases where US soldiers have been involved in combat and espionage operations, including the 2009 ambush in Sulu, which killed US soldiers in an operation.
The Mindanao coalition cited that in February 2008, families in Maimbung, Sulu, were massacred by Philippine soldiers accompanied by US troops. Out Now! said soldiers involved in these incidents cannot be charged for these crimes and violations against the Constitution because of the VFA.
Bishop Juliada also cited the case of 33-year old Gregan Cardeno, a civilian who served as interpreter for American soldiers, who died on February 2, 2010 under mysterious circumstances inside the Philippine Army’s 103rd Brigade Headquarters in Marawi City.
A fact-finding mission led by the Kawagib Alliance for the Advancement of Moro Human Rights, is looking into the family’s complaint that US troops might be involved in Cardeno’s death.
Greater Intervention??The US troops Out Now!-Mindanao added that the SC resolution would only embolden the 600 US troops stationed in Mindanao to commit human rights violations because they would be able to get away with it.
Former University of the Philippines faculty regent and Junk VFA convenor Roland Simbulan said the SC decision could give rise to greater US military intervention in the country.
He said the US was expanding its role in domestic counter-insurgency as well as using the northern region of the Philippines for US “power projection” versus China.??“The choice of venue for the so-called Balikatan exercises in Ilocos Sur early this year shows that U.S. military personnel are indeed getting more and more involved in counterinsurgency operations in various parts of the country. Despite assurances that their activities are merely for “humanitarian aid missions” (medical, dental missions and disaster management exercises), it cannot be doubted that the areas chosen in the 1st and 2nd districts of Ilocos Sur are regarded as the traditional “hotspots” of insurgency in the province,” Simbulan said. ??“The mountainous tri-boundary in northwestern Luzon is also being eyed as a potential listening post for U.S. surveillance equipment and facilities. U.S. special operations teams have already done this in many parts of Mindanao. This is part of the US power projection towards China and the rest of Southeast Asia,” Simbulan said. (Bulatlat.com)