Miriam: No to PH-Australia VFA

by Ira Pedrasa, ABS-CBNnews.com

Posted at Jun 05 2012 06:22 PM | Updated as of Jun 06 2012 02:46 PM

MANILA, Philippines - Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said she will vote against the Philippines-Australia Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) since it poses a threat to the Philippines’ sovereignty and security.

The Senate is expected to vote on the agreement on Wednesday.

The treaty, sponsored last Monday by Senator Loren Legarda, was certified as urgent by Malacañang.

Santiago, an expert on international law, said the treaty is very vague.

“This treaty violates the doctrine of void for vagueness.  It is so vague that it will spawn myriad irritants in RP-Australia relations,” she said.

She noted, for example, Article 5 paragraph 1 of the agreement that provides that visiting soldiers may temporarily use such defined land and sea areas, air space or facilities, of the Receiving State mutually determined by the Parties, for “combined training, exercises, or other activities mutually approved by the Parties.”

“The term ‘other activities’ is so open-ended and wide-ranging that it will become elastic, with virtual freedom for Australian forces to engage in any kind of activity within Philippine territory. That is unacceptable,” Santiago said.

She also said the agreement was not specific on the magnitude of the Australian military’s presence here.

“This VFA will reduce Philippine sovereignty and may even pose a threat to the security of the Filipino people.
Malacañang must clarify and renegotiate if necessary, what will be the specific activities of the Australian Visiting Forces,” Santiago said.

She also noted that the treaty agrees to grant Australian forces exemption from duties and taxes.

She said the Constitution prescribes that: “No law granting any tax exemption shall be passed without the concurrence of a majority of all the Members of Congress.”

“Congress should first pass a law granting the tax exemption, before the Senate concurs with this treaty.  The Constitution provides for a vote of the majority of all Congress members, meaning that there should be a majority vote of both the Senate and the House of Representatives,” she said.

She also lambasted the provision on criminal jurisdiction, saying the Constitution empowers only the Supreme Court to “promulgate rules concerning pleadings, practice and procedure in all courts.”

Santiago also singled out a provision in the agreement that no death sentence shall be carried out by either party.

“The Philippine Constitution allows the death penalty for ‘compelling reasons involving heinous crimes,’” Santiago said.

“Thus, there seems to be a conflict between the VFA and the Philippine Constitution,” she said.