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Palace: ‘VFA 2’ not a secret

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Pact merely inherited from Estrada

By Joel Guinto
First Posted 15:57:00 02/20/2009

MANILA, Philippines — Malacañang said an agreement with Washington on the treatment and detention of Filipino troops charged with crimes in the United States was no secret and was merely inherited from the Estrada administration.

On Thursday, Senator Joker Arroyo bared what he said was a “secret” supplement to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that supposedly proves that the agreement is lopsided in favor of the United States.

Article 9 of the agreement says “confinement imposed by a United States federal or state court upon a 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.”

In contrast, the Philippines and US have allowed American Marine Daniel Smith to be detained at the US embassy in Manila after he was convicted of raping a Filipina, saying this is what the VFA requires.

There have been calls for the pact’s abrogation, including a resolution filed at the Senate, since the Supreme Court, while upholding the constitutionality of the VFA, said Smith should be returned to Philippine custody.

He remains at the embassy, with both the Philippine and US governments saying he can stay there until they negotiate where to detain him locally.

Malacañang has also said it will appeal the high court ruling that voided an agreement between Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and American ambassador Kristie Kenney that allowed Smith’s detention at the US embassy while he appeals his conviction.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde said Arroyo was referring to the “counterpart agreement” of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the “VFA 2,” which guides the conduct of Filipino troops in the US, like the VFA does to American troops in the Philippines.

VFA 2 was “entered into force simultaneously” with the VFA in October 1998, during the term of former president Joseph Estrada, and was even included in a Senate book published in 1999, “The Visiting Forces Agreement: The Senate Decision,” Remonde said.

“VFA II is not a secret document,” Remonde told a news conference at the Palace. “It must be made clear that the President [Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo] merely inherited this treaty.”

Asked if Estrada should explain the VFA 2, Remonde said: “We most respectfully leave that to the former president if he feels he owes the public an apology. But, as is the case, despite the fact that the treaty was ratified by a previous administration, we don’t change treaties with a change in administration.”

Remonde, however, did not directly answer Arroyo’s observation that the VFA 2 was lopsided in favor of the US.

“We are not rejecting anything. We are open to suggestions on this matter,” he said.

He noted benefits Filipino soldiers enjoy under the VFA 2 such as waived customs duties and taxes when performing official duties.

He said only troops from three other countries — Israel, Spain, and Singapore — enjoy the same perks.

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Written by joelguinto

FriUTC2009-02-20T08:29:32+00:00UTC02bUTCFri, 20 Feb 2009 08:29:32 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am02

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