Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, January 27, 2006

Paredes: VFA next to go

By Joyce Pangco Pañares and Ferdinand Fabella, Manila Standard

THE executive director of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement said yesterday the organization’s impending abolition is a sign that Manila is ready to terminate its treaty with the United States.

Facing the ax, VFACom Executive Director Zosimo Paredes also told Standard Today that an executive order is already being drafted to create a new body to oversee the agreement, which has been severely tested by the case in which four US servicemen have been accused of raping a 22-year-old Filipina.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), however, emphasized yesterday the abolition of VFACom had no direct bearing on the Subic rape case, VFA itself or the country’s ties with the United States.

After Washington refused to turn over the four marines to local authorities, angry lawmakers have called on the administration to abrogate the executive agreement.

On Jan. 19, the legislative oversight committee on VFA recommended that the government issue a notice of termination to the United States and renegotiations for a more equitable agreement.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said he is ready to carry out any foreign policy adopted by Congress on the treaty, which has allowed the US embassy in Manila to keep custody of the rape suspects.

At a budget hearing at the Senate on Wednesday, Romulo said President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo had already issued an order abolishing VFACom for its failure to assert Philippine interests in the case.

Paredes, however, said the Philippines stands to lose much if VFA is terminated.

“I am against it. We should not allow one case to cause the abrogation of this treaty, which is very important to the life of the country in terms of security,” he said.

Earlier this month, the US embassy in Manila also issued a lengthy statement detailing the benefits the Philippines gets from VFA.

In a statement yesterday, embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop said Washington would continue to abide by the provisions of VFA.

“We intend to continue working with the Philippine authorities under the VFA,” he said.

The DFA, for its part, played down the importance of VFACom’s abolition.

“The Subic case is already in court and we’re only waiting for the judge’s decision,” said DFA spokesman Gilbert Asuque. “We would like to emphasize that our national interests will be protected in this case.”

Asuque confirmed that another body will be crated to monitor VFA activities, including joint military exercises.

He said the body would work closely with the legislative oversight committee.

Asuque added that even without VFACom, the military exercises would continue.


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