“This incident shows that the US-PH Visiting Forces Agreement is unmistakably an affront to the State’s sovereign power to enforce its laws within its territory and makes a mockery of our justice system.” – Makabayan bloc House Resolution no. 17
BY DEE AYROSO
The Makabayan bloc lawmakers filed a joint resolution Wednesday Oct. 15, at the House of Representatives for the termination of the US-PH Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), four days after the brutal killing of Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude by a suspected US Marine.
Joint resolution no. 17 called for “immediately abrogating” the 15-year-old VFA and urged Pres. Aquino “to send a notice of termination” to the US government. It was filed by Bayan Muna Reps. Neri Javier Colmenares, Carlos Isagani Zarate, Anakpawis Rep. Fernando Hicap, ACT Teachers Partylist Rep. Antonio Tinio and Kabataan Partylist Rep. Terry Ridon.
The slay suspect, US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, of the 2nd Battalion of the 9th Marines, remains under US custody on board the USS Peleliu at Subic Bay port since the night of Oct. 11, after Laude’s killing.
On Oct. 15, the Olongapo City Philippine National Police, along with the victim’s family, filed murder charges against Pemberton for the murder of 26-year-old Laude, who was found drowned in a toilet bowl at Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City, Zambales. The US Marine, however, is yet to be presented by American authorities, thus there was no inquest proceeding.
Pemberton was one of the 4,000 American troops who participated in the Philippine-US Bilateral Exercises (Phiblex), the joint military exercises under VFA.
Article V, paragraph 6 of the VFA provides that the Philippines will have jurisdiction on any law-offending US personnel, but custody “shall immediately reside with US military authorities,” unless the Philippines makes a request for transfer.
“It is a big slap on the face of the Filipino nation and downright revolting that the government failed to arrest and take custody of the suspected assailant Pemberton and the US authority and custody prevailed over the American suspect of killing a Filipino on Philippine soil,” the resolution said.
The VFA gives extra-territorial and extra-judicial rights to visiting American troops, the presence of whom is banned under the 1987 Constitution, “unless under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate… and the other contracting state.”
The resolution insisted that the VFA is “unconstitutional” because it was “not recognized and ratified as a treaty by the US as a contracting State.”
“This incident shows that VFA is unmistakably an affront to the State’s sovereign power to enforce its laws within its territory and makes a mockery of our justice system,” said the resolution.
The Makabayan lawmakers also cited other incidents “wherein the country’s sovereignty, criminal jurisdiction and the end of justice are undermined because of the VFA.”
Among these were the Subic rape case in 2005 in which Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was eventually acquitted, the shooting of farmer Buyong-Buyong Isnijal in Tuburan, Basilan in 2002 by American soldier Reggie Lane, and the shooting of Arsid Baharon in Barangay San Roque, Zamboanga City in 2004.
The lawmakers said there have been “explicit violations” of the VFA and the Philippine Constitution, with the direct participation of US troops in combat operations, particularly in Mindanao.
“These include the August 14, 2007 incident in Indanan, Sulu where a team of US Special Forces was spotted leading a convoy of Philippine Marines on a combat mission near an area of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and where two American soldiers were ambushed. US troops are also involved in internal conflict resolution and counterinsurgency operations as joint military exercises are also conducted in areas where there are reported presence of New People’s Army and MNLF and Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF),” they said in the resolution.
The resolution said the “patently onerous provisions” of the VFA “effectively denies justice for the victims and all Filipinos.”
Rey Miranda, secretary general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan in Eastern Visayas (Bayan-EV), joined calls to terminate VFA and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, as they expressed support for Laude’s family, who hails from the Leyte.
“US imperialism has never been a friend of the Filipino people, and that is the historical truth the people of Eastern Visayas know all too well,” said Miranda in an Oct. 16 statement.
“The US troops who massacred 50,000 civilians in Balangiga and the entire Samar in their colonizing campaign in 1901 are no different from the US troops who are here today in the name of US imperialist hegemony,” he added.
The Bayan-EV leader said the “humanitarian assistance” by US troops in the Yolanda-ravaged areas in the region is a “Trojan horse of the US military.”
“The US took advantage of the 2004 Asian tsunami to solidify its ties to the Indonesian government and seal arms deals. During the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, US troops were deployed to soothe the people’s outrage over the abusive presence of the US military on Okinawa. Only lately, US troops have been sent to the oil-rich Western Africa region because of the Ebola epidemic. There is no altruism behind all these, only the self-serving interests of US imperialism,” Miranda said.
Miranda said Laude’s death gives more weight, not only to terminate the country’s lopsided agreements with the US, but also for Aquino’s ouster.
“Aquino betrayed our national sovereignty and continues to allow impunity to reign over the case of Laude. … This case, among others, is an added reason for the people to oust a treasonous government that has long sold out Filipinos to foreign predators,” said Miranda.