Senator Loren Legarda said that there is a need to revisit the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States because of its onerous provisions, particularly on criminal jurisdiction.
Legarda said that the case of the killing of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude once again highlighted the need to renegotiate certain provisions of the Agreement.
“While we acknowledge the benefits of the VFA, especially in providing the needed support for our armed forces as we have yet to complete the military modernization program, we cannot turn a blind eye to the iniquitous provisions of the Agreement,” she explained.
The Senator noted that the most controversial provision of the Phl-US VFA is the grant of custody of an accused US personnel to US military authorities if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings. On the other hand, the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) between the Philippines and Australia has substantially different provisions on criminal jurisdiction and custody.
“The SOVFA was crafted in a manner that ensures respect for and ascendance of laws of the Receiving State. It addresses the sensitive issue of criminal jurisdiction through a clear set of rules,” said Legarda, who sponsored the Resolution on the Senate’s concurrence in the ratification of SOVFA.
Under the SOVFA, the authorities of the Receiving State have jurisdiction over visiting forces with respect to offenses committed within the Receiving State and punishable by the law of the Receiving State, but not by the law of the Sending State.
Article 11 of the SOVFA states that for offenses committed by a member of the Australian Visiting Force, not relating solely to the property or security of Australia or to offenses done in performance of official duty, Philippine authorities shall have primary right to exercise jurisdiction. Meaning, Philippine law enforcement agencies and courts will have jurisdiction over the case. Moreover, pending investigation and prior to filing of charges, if the suspect is being held by Australia, he or she will remain in their custody. On the other hand, if he or she is already in the hands of Philippine authorities, custody shall remain with the Philippines.
But, upon the filing of charges with the courts, and until judgment becomes final, custody shall be in the detention facilities of the Philippines. Upon conviction by final judgment, the convict shall serve sentence also in a Philippine jail.
“The provisions of the SOVFA on criminal jurisdiction do not grant to offenders any kind of immunity from criminal prosecution for offenses committed in the Philippines. No offender from the visiting forces who commits a crime in the Philippines will be treated differently from any other accused under the SOVFA. Unfortunately, this is not case in the VFA with the US. We must renegotiate the provisions of the Phl-US VFA. If we were able to come up with such provisions in the SOVFA, there is no reason why we cannot do the same with the VFA with the US,” said Legarda.#