VFA review ‘premature’—US envoy
By Joel Guinto
First Posted 11:54:00 02/23/2009
MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE) It will be “premature” to review the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) until the custody of an American marine convicted for raping a Filipina is resolved, United States Ambassador Kristie Kenney said.
Kenney said the case of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was just the “first real case” of the VFA, which governs the conduct of American forces in the Philippines.
The envoy added that the VFA was “serving our countries very, very well.”
“It’s premature to talk about reviewing until we work through this case,” she said.
When the Smith case is resolved, Kenney said both parties could “talk about improvements” to the agreement.
The US is taking the VFA “seriously,” Kenney said as she maintained that it had the force of a treaty.
Kenney said there was no feedback yet from the US State Department on the Philippine Supreme Court’s decision that ordered Smith’s return to Philippine custody.
“I think we should take guidance,” Kenney told reporters Monday, stressing that Washington took all its treaties “very seriously.”
“We don’t sign them lightly. We pay attention to them and we do our best to comply. So we do take any thought of review very seriously,” she said.
The high tribunal upheld the constitutionality of the VFA, but nullified an agreement between Kenney and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo that placed Smith in detention at the embassy.
With Smith still at the US embassy despite the Supreme Court ruling, a number of Philippine senators have called for the pact to be reviewed or revoked altogether.
Some pro-US officials and legislators have warned that killing the treaty could force Washington to downgrade defense ties with Manila, which the Bush administration considered a key regional ally in the global war on terrorism.
The VFA outlines the rules governing conduct of US troops participating in joint military exercises here.
The treaty’s ratification in 1999 provided the legal cover for the resumption of large-scale joint military exercises between the two allies.
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