VFA 'side agreement' on 'troop custody' being pushed — Lorenzana

Published August 4, 2021, 12:45 PM

by Martin Sadongdong

After President Duterte decided to keep the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a “side agreement” on which country will take the custody of American soldiers who are accused of committing a crime while in the Philippines is now being pushed by the security sector, Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Delfin Lorenzana revealed Wednesday, August 4.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana (Photo courtesy of Department of National Defense)

Lorenzana said the security sector is pursuing for the finalization of a side agreement on “troop custody” which seeks to address the “irritant” provision under the current version of the VFA that erring American soldiers in the Philippines shall be placed under the custody of the United States military.

“Isa iyan about sa troop custody ng mga nagkakasala na Amerikano kung sino ang magcustody kasi doon sa original document, it is under the custody of the Americans. Medyo iyon ang irritant eh (One of it is the troop custody of erring Americans, who will take their custody because in the original document, it is under the custody of the Americans. That’s kind of irritant),” Lorenzana said in a virtual interview over online news site Rappler.

“Napakaraming against na Pilipino kasi katulad ng mga namatay o na-rape hindi natin mahawakan despite the fact that they committed the crime here in the Philippines so iyon ang one of the most contentious issue[s] (Many Filipinos are against this [provision] because we have cases of killings or rape where we cannot take hold [of the suspect] despite the fact that they committed the crime here in the Philippines so it is one of the most contentious issues),” he added.

Under Paragraph 6 of Article V of the VFA, the custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is set to exercise jurisdiction “shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

Lorenzana said the document, which will serve as an addendum to the original version of the VFA, was crafted by the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces in partnership with US authorities.

“Unfortunately, I’m not privy to that document. I already heard that it’s already there at the Office of the President but i believe before the letter of termination was retracted by the President, hindi naman nila iyon ginagalaw dahil kung matuloy ang abrogation ng VFA eh ‘di walang kwenta din ‘yon (they were not tackling it because if ever the abrogation of the VFA pushed through, then it will all be for naught),” the Defense Chief explained.

Last July 30 though, Lorenzana announced that Duterte finally decided to retract his decision to terminate the VFA after meeting with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III in Malacanang.

The VFA , which enables entry of American soldiers in the Philippines without passport and visa to participate in joint military drills, had been in danger of being terminated since February 2020.

“I believe that after the retraction of the termination letter, tuloy na siguro ang dokumento na iyon (that document will be pushed). I think it will be reviewed. I hope i can see it also so that i can talk about it pero nandyan na iyan (it’s already) on the drawing board. Nandyan na iyan sa Malacanang at naghihintay lang ng scrutiny ng OP bago pumunta kay Presidente (It’s already in Malacanang and just waiting for scrutiny of the Office of the President before it goes to the President),” he noted.

The custody of erring American soldiers who are in the Philippines became a hot topic when US Marines Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton was convicted of killing Filipino transwoman Jennifer Laude on October 11, 2014 in Subic Bay, Olongapo.

Pemberton, then a 19-year-old US military personnel who was in the country for a joint US-PH training, killed Laude in a hotel in Subic where they checked in after learning that she was a transwoman.

He was taken custody by the US Navy inside Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City until he was granted an absolute pardon by President Duterte and released in September 2020.