Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Philippines Will Lose $8M In Military Aid Once War Games Pact Is Terminated

The Philippines should seek amendments to its visiting forces agreement (VFA) with the United States instead of abrogating it, a Palace official said yesterday. Zosimo Paredes, executive director of the Presidential Commission on the VFA, said the country stands to lose around $8 million in annual military aid once the military pact is terminated. "I disagree with the [decision] of the legislative oversight committee on the VFA... to recommend to the President the abrogation or scrapping of the VFA. We stand to lose if we scrap it," he told reporters.
Last week, the joint oversight committee, which comprises lawmakers from both houses of Congress, voted to terminate the VFA after Washington refused to turn over custody of four American servicemen charged with raping a Filipina. But Mr. Paredes said abolishing the VFA could imperil the Philippine- US Mutual Defense Treaty, which he said is the more important treaty between the two countries. "Even before we tell them that we should renegotiate it, we are scrapping it. It's not the way to negotiate between and among countries that have had a long-standing amity," he pointed out. Foreign Affairs Spokesman Gilberto Asuque said revising the VFA is subject to the approval of the US, adding that the pact does not provide for amendments in the future. "But that does not prevent the two parties from agreeing to an amendment." He said once the US opposes moves to amend the VFA, the Philippines would have the option of terminating the deal. The VFA, which was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, is an implementing mechanism of the 1951 Philippine-US Mutual Defense Treaty. It paved the way for the resumption of joint military exercises between the two countries. The pact sets the ground rules for exercises and determines which country will have jurisdiction over American soldiers who commit crimes while in the Philippines for training drills. Aside from military training, US servicemen participating in annual war games also provide civic and medical assistance to poor communities in the Philippines. "Our military depends a lot on these joint exercises. Without the VFA, there could be a halt to all these. The VFA is our license to accept foreign military forces to our country," Mr. Paredes said