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VFA in eye of storm anew

Hananeel Bordey

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Senate President Vicente Sotto III is certain that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should be reconsidered if the US Congress passes the bill seeking to suspend assistance to Philippine police and military over alleged human rights violations.

“Then we should reconsider the VFA if they pass that,” Sotto said in a text message.

“It’s actually a big IF. If they pass a bill suspending security aid to us, then what will the VFA stand for?” he added.

Senator Panfilo Lacson pointed out that there might be legal issues if the US Congress legislates such measure as the VFA is still existing.

More than that, Lacson said that approving the said measure will disadvantage both the United States and the Philippines in relation to the persistent threat of terrorism.

“If adopted and approved, the said bill — H.R. 8313 — will not only be our loss but theirs as well, considering that a major part of the security assistance being extended to the Philippines is used to combat terrorism, which knows no borders and timing. And they know that for a fact,” Lacson said.

Nevertheless, the lawmaker explained that it is the right of any member of the US Congress to file any measure.

Wild suggestion
The Palace on Thursday expressed confidence that the United States would consider its close ties with the Philippines in deciding whether or not it would approve the “wild suggestion” of an American lawmaker to suspend Washington’s aid to the country’s security forces.

Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild introduced yesterday the Philippine Human Rights Act bill at the US Congress which seeks to block American security assistance to the Philippines until the government makes reforms to the military and police.

The proposed measure outlines a “serious basic criteria” that would have to be met in order to resume funding, including the investigation and prosecution of human rights violators among uniformed personnel.

Also among the conditions that should be met are the establishment of rights protection of trade unionists, journalists, human right defenders, indigenous persons, small-farmers, LGBTQ+ activists and government critics.

The bill also asks the government to guarantee a judicial system that is capable of investigating, prosecuting and bringing to justice members of the police and military who have committed human rights abuses.

AFP assurance
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on Thursday insisted it will never support or tolerate any form of abuse by military personnel, ensuring that all soldiers are trained to operate within the limits and bounds of the Constitution.

AFP spokesperson Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo issued the statement in reaction ng to H.R. 8313, or the Philippine Human Rights Act, filed before the US Congress by Wild where one issue being targeted is the alleged human rights violations committed by the military and police.

While the AFP does “not deal with policies and inclinations of foreign governments,” Arevalo said the accusation “is something vehemently denied” by the Philippine military.

“In many instances in the past, we have been empathic about human rights. The AFP has no record of abuses,” Arevalo said in his virtual presser.

He then challenged Wild and other American legislators to “bring their matters to prove their allegations” so that the AFP can conduct its investigation against soldiers who purportedly committed such dastardly acts.

“We will bring them before court martial. That is not allowed, that is not supported by the AFP,” stressed the AFP mouthpiece. “We ensure that all our soldiers are operating within limits and bounds of the Bill of Rights. “We say it is unfair to accuse the AFP of being a violator of human rights.”

ATL passage
Just like in the Philippine Congress, the measure filed in US Congress will go through different referrals and debates.

The filing of the measure was rooted in the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law which Wild claimed to be used in “ramping up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers and political opponents.”

In a speech at the US Congress, Wild, a Democrat lawmaker, claimed the “brutal” regime of President Rodrigo Duterte is using the pretext of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 to “ramp up efforts targeting labor organizers, workers and political opponents.”

In response to this, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque tagged the bill as “wild,” even as he noted that the Philippines would not interfere with the decision of the United States.

with Kristina Maralit
MJ Blancaflor
and Elmer Manuel

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