Visiting Forces Agreement with US beneficial to Philippines: official
MANILA, Jan. 30 (Xinhuanet) -- Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo Monday defended the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States as still beneficial to the Philippines despite calls to abrogate it after the American government refused to turn over four US marines charged with raping a Filipino woman to the Philippines.
"The VFA is mutually beneficial and strengthens the Philippine-US security relationship through military assistance, advice and training," Romulo said in a statement.
He said that while the DFA respects the views of the members of the Senate and the House, which recently approved a concurrent resolution terminating the VFA, the agreement is still vital to the interests of the country.
The VFA is a bilateral defense pact between Manila and Washington that allows regular joint military exercises in the country.
It will be submitted first to both chambers of Congress for concurrence before it could be transmitted to President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for approval.
Once approved by the president, the VFA will remain in force until the expiration of 180 days or six months from the date on which Manila gives Washington notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement, he disclosed.
"I wish to reiterate the importance the Philippines gives to the VFA, particularly to the capacity-building efforts of our armed forces," Romulo said, adding, "we respect the position of Congress on this issue. And we will pursue the diplomatic track inaddressing this issue as other countries have done in similar situations."
On the issue of custody, Romulo said that dialogue and diplomacy will continue to address the case, in which the four US marines were accused of raping the 22-year-old Filipina on Nov. 1 in Subic Bay.
However, the US government has officially rejected the Philippines' request to transfer the accused to the Philippine authorities citing the VFA provision that primary custody resides with the United States.
"There are valuable lessons to be learned not only on how strongly other countries feel on the issue of custody, but also onhow they addressed this issue. Through dialogue and diplomacy, they negotiated common understandings on definitions, concepts andprocedures relating to their agreements with the United States," Romulo said. Enditem