Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Thursday, January 26, 2006

GMA orders abolition of maligned VFACom

By Roy Pelovello, Manila Standard

PRESIDENT Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has ordered the abolition of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement, which has come under increasing criticism for its failure to assert Philippine interests.

At a Senate hearing yesterday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said President Arroyo agreed to abolish the commission after the Senate threatened to cut its budget to P1 a year for failing to protect the dignity of the country in the case against four US servicemen accused of raping a Filipina.

“I understand that there is a move to abolish that office by denying it a budget and I understand also that the President has agreed to this,” Romulo told the Senate during budget hearings yesterday.

In agreeing to abolish VFACom, the Palace seemed to be distancing itself from the commission’s executive director, Zosimo Paredes, who earned the ire of Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, chairman of the legislative oversight committee on VFA.

Santiago pointed out that VFA was supposed to be chaired by the foreign affairs secretary and the defense secretary but was never convened.

Paredes, as executive director, was supposed to take directions from the commission and carry these out, Santiago said.

“Instead, this director has arrogated the authority to speak for the VFACom so it sounds as if he is the head of the commission instead of acting as the secretary or secretariat,” Santiago said.

“This director has deluded the media into the belief that he has the authority to speak for a group of Cabinet members of which he is not a member. In other words, he is a minor functionary of the VFACom but he struts around the media circles as if he heads the VFA,” Santiago added.

Even the US embassy believed Paredes’ “propaganda” and allowed him to see the accused US soldiers ahead of the legislative oversight committee.

Romulo, for his part, urged journalists not to refer to Paredes as DFA undersecretary because he isn’t a foreign affairs officer.

Santiago said she was at the Palace when President Arroyo instructed Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita to draft an executive order abolishing VFACom. This should not prejudice the country’s interests, because the foreign affairs and defense departments can coordinate on VFA-related concerns, she added.

Earlier, the legislative oversight committee recommended the termination of VFA and cancellation of joint military exercises with the United States over Washington’s refusal to turn over the four accused marines.

The US embassy has used VFA to keep custody of the accused as they go to trial.

Asked to comment, Paredes said he was “saddened, surprised and disappointed” and that he knew of no reason for abolishing the commission. “I believe we are doing our job,” he said.

He said he had met with Ermita Monday but was not told of the plan to abolish VFACom.

Sources in DFA said Paredes had been “too careless” in talking about the Subic rape case, issuing statements to the press that made diplomatic negotiations between DFA and the US embassy in Manila more difficult. With Ferdinand Fabella


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