More lawmakers seek review of VFA

October 19, 2014

MANILA, Philippines – Sen. Loren Legarda yesterday joined the calls for a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the US with the aim of renegotiating some of the provisions of the treaty, particularly on criminal jurisdiction.

Reacting to the latest case allegedly involving an American serviceman, Legarda said the VFA should be revisited because it has many onerous provisions.

“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,” Legarda said.

She cited in particular the provision of the VFA granting custody of American military personnel accused of a crime in the Philippines to US authorities, if they request this, as one of the most controversial provisions of the agreement.

Such was the case in 2009 when American Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was charged with raping a Filipina in Olongapo City but during the entire duration of his trial, he was never in the custody of Philippine authorities.

Legarda said the VFA should contain a provision similar to what was negotiated in the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) between the Philippines and Australia.

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She said SOVFA is very different when it comes to the issue of 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,” Legarda said.

She pointed out that 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 its domestic laws.

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.

This means 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 will 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,” Legarda pointed out.

Source: Philstar