Philippine officials defend agreements with US military

Object to calls to scrap deals on treatment of US service personnel amid outrage at killing of a Filipino

Philippine officials defend agreements with US military

World Bulletin/News Desk

Philippine defense authorities have expressed strong objections to calls to scrap agreements governing the treatment of U.S. service personnel, amid outrage over the suspected killing of a Filipino transgender woman by a U.S. marine.

Col. Edgard Arevalo, Philippine Navy spokesperson, told reporters Friday that such deals are beneficial to the country’s security forces in terms of both training and information sharing.

"With the use of their modern equipment and military assets, the U.S. Armed Forces share vital information with their [Philippine] counterparts," he added.

Arevalo particularly defended the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows the U.S. to retain custody of personnel accused of crimes until the end of Philippine judicial procedures and has recently drawn intensified criticism.

Calls from activists and some lawmakers to scrap such agreements came after 26-year-old Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude was beaten and strangled Oct. 11 in Olongapo City, Zambales province.

The suspect, Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, was one of 3,500 U.S. military personnel taking part in a joint exercise with the Philippines military.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and left-wing Akbayan Party Representative Walden Bello filed a joint resolution Monday calling for the Visiting Forces Agreement’s termination.

The resolution referred to numerous controversies involving U.S. military forces in the country, and stressed they “show that the [deal] is used to shield transgressions made by US military on Philippine soil, seriously infringing on the country’s ability to prosecute these criminal acts.”

Meanwhile, Civil Relations Group commander Major Emmanuel Garcia told reporters the agreements with the U.S. are not unique to the Philippines as militarily strong countries worldwide undertake such deals and exercises to further improve their armed forces.

Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin had earlier warned against scrapping the Visiting Forces Agreement “before it has truly proven its worth.”

Defending the deal in the case of Laude’s murder, he said it “had shown that the Philippines and U.S. are willing to cooperate fully with each other within the terms of the agreement.”

Secretary Hermino Coloma Jr., spokesperson for President Benigno Aquino III, said the administration will not bow to calls to scrap the agreement, stressing it is “part of the strategy for national defense of the Philippines.”

Laude’s killing inflamed anger at the presence of U.S. forces in the Philippines and came a few months after the U.S. signed a controversial pact to boost its military presence in the country.

Private Pemberton, 19, was transferred to a Philippine military base last week, although he still remains under U.S. custody and is guarded by fellow marines. He had previously been held aboard the USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship moored in Subic Bay.

His detention in U.S. custody has led to protests and anti-U.S. sentiment was exacerbated last Tuesday when he failed to attend a preliminary court hearing.

Previous incidents involving U.S. personnel, such as the case of Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, convicted of rape by a Philippine court in 2006 but acquitted three years later, have fostered the belief that U.S. servicemen act with impunity towards the local population.

Two agreements – the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, a 10-year deal that allows the U.S. to increase its military presence – are much criticized.

They are vital to U.S. plans to focus its military and economic power on the Asia-Pacific region to curb China's influence.

The Visiting Forces Agreement, signed in 1998, allowed the U.S. to establish more than 20 ‘semi permanent’ military bases in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony.


Last Mod: 31 Ekim 2014, 15:42
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