Senator renews call to end VFA after alleged murder by US Marine

By Ryan Chua, ABS-CBN North America Bureau

Oct. 15, 2014

She has always been against the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States.

Now, following the killing Jennifer Laude allegedly by a U.S. marine, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago says she has more reasons to believe the VFA must be scrapped.

“For me, this is an opportunity for me to renew my call to abrogate the VFA, ask the Americans for a re-negotiation,” said Sen. Santiago. “If they refuse, then simply give them notice to terminate, because under the rules of the VFA, all you have to do to abrogate the VFA is give one-year notice to the Americans.”

The Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, which Santiago chairs, will begin investigating the case next week with the goal of reviewing the VFA.

People who can shed light on the incident will be invited.

“Yun ang mga involved nay un, mga tao sa hotel, mga taga-NBI, kung sino pa ang mga nakakakita sa pagpasok at paglabas,” said Sen. Santiago. “Ang kamag-anak ng namatay nay un baka may alam sila. Baka malay mo dati na silang magkakilala. Tingnan natin ang lahat ng anggulo nay an.”

The Senator also insists the Philippines must have custody of the suspect, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, while the case is pending.

On Wednesday, members of the Gabriela Women’s Party held a rally at the Foreign Affairs Department, to protest what they say is government’s weak action on gaining custody of Pemberton.

“It seems the DFA is trying to lawyer for the suspect and invoking VFA provisions on the U.S. right to custody,” said Joms Salvador, Secretary-General of GABRIELA.

The group Bayan also supports calls to junk the VFA, even reminding President Aquino that he once voted to scrap the agreement when he was a senator.

“Later on as president in 2010, Aquino promised to review the VFA,” said Renato Reyes, Secretary-General of BAYAN. “Five years into his presidency, like many of his promises, still no results. Aquino seems more interested in field trips on a US aircraft carrier than upholding national sovereignty.”

But the head of the Senate Defense Committee, Senator Antonio Trillanes, does not agree with abolishing the VFA.

“Iba na yung pinapatatag mo na lang yung alliances mo with people who would be strong enough to support you and fight with you,” said Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV. “While this is unfortunate, ay hindi dapat nito matabunan o ma-overcome yung mga benepisyo ng VFA.”

“This case should be pursued vigorously until the perpetrator of the crime is convicted and serves the full penalty,” said Senator Loren Legarda.

“I support calls for our government to assert its stand to gain custody of Pemberton, to ensure that the suspect will be brought to justice,” said Senator Nancy Binay.

“Hate crimes against the LGBT sector and other minority groups have no place in a civilized society,” said Senator Bam Aquino.

Meanwhile, other senators joined calls to resolve Laude’s case swiftly.

They also proposed stiffer penalties for hate crimes targeting lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders, or LGBT.

“Some lawmakers and groups believe Jennifer Laude’s case will test the government and determine which is more important for it: achieving justice for one of its citizens, or upholding the provisions of an agreement, that strengthens its alliance with the most powerful military in the world.”

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