RP’s interests should come first: Jurisdiction, US presence should be clarified in VFA – Chiz

Opposition Sen. Chiz Escudero yesterday said criminal jurisdiction over offenses committed by US soldiers and their presence in conflict areas should be clarified in any renegotiation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The criminal jurisdiction provision is obviously onerous in favor the United States and needs to be changed. The case of Mr. Daniel Smith is a clear example of this,” he said.

We cannot begrudge the US for acting to protect the interests of its nationals and its interests. Our own officials should also, with the same fervor, do the same,” said Escudero, who has signed a Senate resolution calling for the abrogation of the VFA.

Defense Secretary Gilbert Teodoro had earlier defended the treaty and challenged its critics to explain why it should be renegotiated and what the problems were in the pact.

The 39-year old lawmaker, who has signed the resolution for the abrogation of the VFA, also said there should be “clearer, stronger and stricter stipulations” in the treaty to prohibit the participation of US soldiers in actual combat operations against communist and Muslim insurgents.

In the same way that there should be clearer provisions on the ‘visiting’ status of US soldiers so as not to be implemented or interpreted to include a permanent presence in areas where they are to be deployed,” Escudero said.

Questions have been raised regarding the continued presence of US troops in southern Philippines even after the conclusion of joint military exercises allowed under the VFA.

The American troops have been conducting humanitarian missions as well as assisting the Philippine military in its campaign against the Al-Qaeda-linked Abu Sayyaf Group, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), and communist New People’s Army (NPA).

Teodoro has also denied the US soldiers were overstaying, citing the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty as the basis for their deployment in various parts of Mindanao.#