POSTSCRIPT / May 25, 1999 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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US will abuse VFA only if Filipinos allow it

WE just relearned a basic, yet unerring, lesson on humanity — and on how newspapers can relate to their readers in a more meaningful way.

Browsing the Internet last week, we chanced upon what struck us as a moving story of a boy of five who lost a sister in a road accident and was about to lose his mother. We simply had to retell the story, and we did so in Postscript last Sunday.

On the day it came out, our email box was clogged with readers’ reactions. Of the 53 letters we got that day via email alone, some 95 percent were on that boy’s compelling story. Most of those who wrote asked for a copy of the story so they could share it with friends and relatives. The next day (Monday, yesterday), almost the same number of readers also contacted us by email.

Those who asked for the text of the story will get it as soon as we sort out the user-names, nicknames, codenames, initials and their respective addresses sent to us.

Until Infocom, our Internet Service Provider, experienced yesterday afternoon some server problem affecting the downloading and sending of email, we were able to send the story only to some 40 readers. The others will get their copies shortly.

* * *

IN the first batch were these Postscript readers:

Ignacio <>, Agustin Tan <>, Albert J. Lesaca <>, Archie G. Co <>, Bien C. Mateo <>, Charmaine <>, Donnie V. Pakingan <>, Ed Reyes <>, Edmund Charles Paragas <>, Enrico P. Landicho <>, Evelyn P. Jo <>, Franklin Lao <>, George <>, Giovanni Albano <>, Girlie V. Ileto <>, Irene A. Quilino <>, Jack Sherman <>, Jay Ilagan <>, Jeff Co <>, Johnnie Ng <>, Josefina Sembrano <>, Jun Rey E. Bonecillo <>, Kiko <>, Marlie Dising <>, Mrs. Toad <>, Myra Hilario <>, Neliagan <>, Nino Carreon <>, Odin Deseo <>, Oscar Mejia <>, Paula Gamboa <>, Peanut <>, Rex Fontanoza <>, Rochelle Valencia <>, Rolando A. Timog <>, Stella Villarosa <>, Terence Calvert <>, Tina Villamin <>, Christopher <>, and Wizardpig <>.

* * *

HERE are samples of the email we received on the story titled “When a car accident rips a boy’s heart.”

From Mrs. A. P. Panlilio of <>: “I was very much affected, that I could not stop the tears that I shed unashamedly as I read your column today regarding the tragedy in the life of a little boy and his faith in Jesus. How beautiful it is to be childlike… pure innocence. Thank you for giving me a copy so I could send to my children, relatives and friends abroad. God bless you and more power to you.”

From Abay Lesaca of <>: “Please send me a copy of the story… I consider myself to be a hardboiled sonuvabitch, but this story nearly choked me up. Thanks for helping peel back the scabs that have accumulated on my soul over the years.”

If you’ve asked for a copy but you’re not on the list above, your name will be with the next batch. But you most likely will get your copy anytime today. Please keep checking your email – and forward the story to others as soon as you get it. God bless.

* * *

SOME of my friends will probably stop talking to me for what I will confess about my attitude toward the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement being passionately debated in the Senate and outside.

My stand on the VFA is: I am not for the agreement’s approval by the Senate, but I don’t really mind if the 23-member chamber ratifies it.

In other words, for some reason (fatigue?), I can’t see myself vehemently fighting its approval. If it’s eventually passed, as many of us expect, okay lang.

As it is in our neighborhood, in this world, we have to have friends. Although the United States has not been as attentive and as true as we would want it to be, it’s still one of our good friends.

It has not been all sunshine. Our bilateral relationship has not been spared the ups and downs, the love-hate distractions of most intimate relationships, but it’s still something we can live with and something the country can profit from.

If we drop America as a friend, where do we go? To China?

* * *

TO me, the biggest reason why the VFA should not be approved is that its provisions on criminal jurisdiction may work against Filipino victims of crimes committed by American servicemen coming over on short stays.

The VFA is so worded that a US commander who wants to protect a GI accused of a local crime can just issue a certificate saying that the man was on official duty. Abuses on the issuance of duty certificates could make local courts helpless in meting out justice for Filipino victims.

The abusive issuance of duty certificates for servicemen who get into trouble was noted under a similar criminal jurisdiction proviso of the old RP-US bases agreement. (As editor of another newspaper, I was actively against the approval of an extension of the bases pact.)

* * *

BUT then, the fate of an erring US serviceman is not really entirely in the hands of his commander. Even assuming that he is issued a duty certificate, whether or not he will go scot-free depends largely on us.

American GIs managed to escape punishment through the issuance of duty certificates without regard for substantive justice, because we allowed it. Repeat: Because we allowed it.

I submit that despite the seeming lopsided wording of the VFA provision on criminal jurisdiction, if we (government and citizens) really want to gain justice for our aggrieved compatriots, we can do it.

If we don’t respect ourselves or our fellows, if we continue not to care for one another, not even a treaty openly lopsided in our favor will be able to help us.

A fair treaty helps, all right, but in the final analysis, it is not so much what the VFA says as what we hold in our hearts and in our fists as Filipinos that will decide how other people will treat us.

* * *

PEOPLE have to be told that the VFA is not being deliberated upon for possible approval under the transitory provision of the Constitution (Section 25, Article XVIII) that says that after the expiration in 1991 of the RP-US bases agreement, “foreign military bases, troops or facilities shall not be allowed in the Philippines except under a treaty duly concurred in by the Senate… and recognized as a treaty by the other contracting party.”

This transitory section does not apply, because it refers to agreements (similar to the old bases pact) that speak of permanent bases, permanently based troops and permanent facilities. The VFA is not a treaty falling under this transitory provision.

The VFA refers only to visiting US forces or troops that come here temporarily in connection with joint military exercises, among other temporary situations. The VFA’s main use is to define the status of these foreign forces while on Philippine soil.

* * *

INSTEAD, the Senate will approve the VFA under Section 21 of Article VII (Executive Department) that says: “No treaty or international agreement shall be valid and effective unless concurred in by at least two-thirds of all the members of the Senate.”

The VFA is not a treaty covered by the transitory provision on the permanent basing of foreign troops, but is an executive agreement signed between the Executive Departments of the Philippines and the United States.

The requirement for Senate concurrence of an agreement signed by the Executive Department was inserted in Article VII defining powers of the President, because it imposes a precondition to making an executive agreement valid and enforceable.

This is exactly what the Senate is doing. It is exercising its function under Section 21 of Article VII of scrutinizing and passing upon the VFA, an international agreement signed by the Executive.

We repeat, the Senate is not acting on a treaty on the permanent basing of foreign forces. It is merely moving to concur with an international agreement signed by the Executive.

* * *

SENATE approval of the VFA is a foregone conclusion.

But that is not the end of the watch. As we said earlier on, we should follow through and see to it that the US does not throw its weight around or insists on patent abuses under the VFA.

With or without the VFA, there will be abuses if we allow them.

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of May 25, 1999)

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