We are at present in the midst of a controversy regarding the VFA or Visiting Forces Agreement. Like all Filipinos we are concerned about this agreement for it concerns the common good toward which every member of the political community should contribute.
We wish to present here some principles which will help us towards a correct decision on this matter.
The Church teaches the basic equality of all human beings since all men are created in God’s image, and having the same nature and origin, have been redeemed by Christ and share the same divine calling and destiny. (GS, no. 29) Thus any agreement entered into by the government with any foreign government should not result in foreigners being given preferential treatment over Filipinos in our own country.
In making decisions, political authority should be guided by the common good since it exists for the common good (GS #74), which is the sum total of social conditions which allow people, either as groups or individuals, to reach their fulfillment more fully and more easily (GS, no. 26). Thus any agreement that does not foster the common good of the Filipinos but works to their disadvantage should be rejected.
Christians are called to work for peace on earth which symbolizes and derives from the peace of Christ, who is our peace and who united all man and woman in one people and one body, abolishing hatred in his own flesh (GS, #78; cf. Eph. 2:16; Col. 1:20-22). Hence, our government should enter into only those agreements that foster the peace of human kind. It is in the light of these principles that we now wish to take a close look at the VFA.
I. Pertinent Provisions
The following are the pertinent provisions of this agreement also called Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA):
Purpose. “… to strengthen international and regional security in the Pacific area;” (Preamble)
Definition of United States Personnel . “… US personnel means US military and civilian personnel temporarily in the Philippines in connection with activities approved by the Philippine Government.” (Art. 1)
Exemption from passport and visa regulations (III, 2).
Quaratine inspection only by commanding officer of a military aircraft or vessel (III, 3, (c)).
Driver’s license issued by appropriate US authority accepted as valid. No driving test or fee (IV, 1). Vehicles need not be registered (IV, 2).
US Military authorities have primary right to exercise jurisdiction over US personnel in “offenses arising out of any act or omission done in performance of official duty” (V, 3, (b), (2)).
Philippine authorities’ waiver of primary right to exercise jurisdiction when requested by US authorities (V, 3, (d)).
Confinement or detention by Philippine authorities of US personnel shall be carried out in facilities agreed on by appropriate Philippine and US authorities (V, 10).
No import/export taxes, duties, charges, etc. (VII, 1).
Unhampered and unrestricted movement of vessels and aircrafts. (What implementing arrangements?) No landing, no port fees (Art. VIII, 1-3).
Vague termination of agreement. “This agreement shall remain in force until the expiration of 180 days from the date on which either party gives the other party notice in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.” (IX).
II. Brief Comments
The VFA was signed in Manila on 10 February 1998 by Secretary Domingo L. Siazon, Jr. and Ambassador Thomas C. Hubbard. It is very similar to the Draft Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) which was strongly criticized by some people. The VFA was signed without public consultation. Everything was done in secret.
Art. 1 is vaguely worded. What activities are envisioned? Military training exercises? Military combat operations in the Philippines?
Live ammunitions are sometimes used in military training exercises. These pose danger to human lives and animals. They also destroy the environment.
All the exemptions mentioned in Articles III, IV, VII and VIII make the US personnel special class of persons. Treated much better than Filipinos!
Criminal jurisdiction is a contentious issue. The VFA does not resolve it. As a matter of fact Article V seems to surrender national sovereignty to the US authorities. An Official Duty Certificate is all that is needed to remove criminal jurisdiction from Philippine courts on erring US personnel. In effect the Official Duty Certificate grants US forces diplomatic immunity.
The agreement does not specify in clear and concise terms the extent of access to and movement within, the Philippines of US forces “visiting” in the Philippines. Area of coverage could be the entire country. How about the number of US personnel? How long will they stay? No one knows!
What if the US forces bring into the country nuclear weapons? The VFA is silent on this constitutional ban. Philippine authorities could not inspect US vessels and aircrafts.
The VFA does not foster the independence of the Philippines. What an irony. We just celebrated the centenary of our independence.
This agreement will instead promote sexual adventurism and promiscuity, HIV-AIDS, and the exploitation of the Filipinos. It will pollute and degrade the environment.
Above premises considered, the VFAas it presently stands should be rejected.
If it is going to be renegotiated, all the ambiguous details mentioned above should be clarified.
Any final agreement must have the character of a treaty made between two sovereign nations, not between a master and a lackey.
In the matter of jurisdiction over crimes committed by visiting US personnel someone should look into similar agreement between the United States and, for example, Spain, Britain, Turkey, et al.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
+OSCAR V. CRUZ, D.D.
Archbishop of Lingayen-Dagupan
13 July 1998