POSTSCRIPT / December 19, 2013 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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PH-US ‘access’ talks: Lose some, win some

AMEND VFA: My suggestion in the last Postscript to amend the Visiting Forces Agreement in the light of the United States’ seeking “easier and greater access” to certain Philippine areas elicited varied reactions from readers. (Revisit at: http://manilamail.com/archive/2013dec/13dec17/)

The most contentious VFA section is on criminal jurisdiction, which I said should be amended “to give Philippine courts original and exclusive jurisdiction over all cases filed by Filipinos against US personnel for alleged violations of domestic laws committed on Philippine soil.”

I added: “The usual duty certificate (that the erring US serviceman was on official duty at the time) will be honored, only if it will be shown that the accused was in proper uniform, not under the influence of prohibited substances, and was doing what he did as part of his official duties.”

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DISAGREE: As expected, some readers agreed, while others did not. One reader whom we will identify only as “MH” (since it is not sure he wants to be quoted) said:

“After reading your article on the ‘conditions’ to be set for any return of US troops, it is obvious you know little about the day-to-day reality of their interaction with local Filipinos. The US will never agree to RP jurisdiction over GIs in legal matters for the most obvious reasons: fraud, extortion, intimidation, and blackmail.

“Clark and Subic attracted every type of scam artist imaginable. And even good people who ‘set up,’ be it for associating with an underage girl, a staged traffic accident, disagreements, arguments, whatever, and there always seemed to be a nearby cop to help ‘settle’ the matter.

“Usually, just the ‘threat’ of filing a case, no matter how meritless, was enough to collect cash because the base Legal authorities were obligated to investigate and that record would damage the serviceman’s career. The crooks knew this very well.

“Then there were the thousands of (genuine) crimes committed against the GIs, mostly burglaries, but there were many robberies and assaults, and several rapes, even murders, almost always unsolved, or unprosecuted because the victims could not stick around for years waiting for the case to come to court, not to mention the threats to their lives.

“And despite leftist’s claims otherwise, crimes committed by GIs were extremely rare and almost always under the influence of alcohol. Now you know the (rest) of the story.”

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EXCUSE ME: Re his comment that I “know little about the day-to-day reality of their (GIs’) interaction with the local Filipinos,” may I say that this journalist grew up near Clark air base, then the biggest US installation outside the mainland, saw raw life in the liberty town of Angeles, and was often in Subic Bay and John Hay.

I had the privilege of touring several US military bases under the Pacific Command, taking R&R-type jaunts in surrounding communities in the jolly company of American officers, listened to high-level briefings, boarded a nuclear submarine loaded with Polaris missiles, and witnessed such secret operations as the pre-dawn scrambling of B-52s for a bombing mission.

As diplomatic reporter, I covered and took special interest in Philippine-American official relations for decades, and have read extensively on Status of Forces issues involving NATO, Japan, Korea and other allies where large numbers of US forces are stationed.

Having had deep contact with Americans, including officials, I have had my own sweet and sour experience dealing with them, including their occasional perfidy.

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THE WMD LIE: On MH’s insinuation that Filipinos are generally scheming, inclined to tricking Americans into one-sided arrangements, I recall a public forum years back at the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington, DC, that I attended as a panelist on invitation of the State Department.

At that time the US was anxious to explain to the world its invasion of Iraq on the false pretext that the Middle East country under Saddam Hussein had a stockpile of weapons of mass destruction – a lie spread with the connivance of a big sector of American media.

The Philippines was among the allies then being pressured to send troops to Iraq for a show of flags in lieu of United Nations action as demanded (in vain) by the US.

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INTERDEPENDENCE: From the table with some 10 senior Asian editors I argued against Philippine involvement in Iraq. I pointed out too that an unprovoked US invasion of another sovereign state and a fellow UN member was illegal, immoral and errant behavior.

A man in the crowd shot me a direct question, taking to task my country’s allegedly using or taking advantage of the frantic US effort to gather allies for the Iraq campaign. He said the Philippines was dragging its feet, because it wanted first to extract concessions from the US.

I fired back with something like: Diplomacy is a two-way street. In this interdependent world, we – especially allies — lean on one another. You accuse the Philippines of using the United States. Has it occurred to you that your country is also using the Philippines?

He sat down without a word.

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GIVE AND TAKE: Back to the VFA, I submit that it could/should be rewritten, expanded and possibly made the basis for the “easier and greater” access that the US seeks.

In this world that keeps growing smaller, interaction with historical partners and allies is enriched by a willingness to give and take.

In the first encounter, both sides can place on the table their maximum positions, which should not be immediately rejected as preposterous. In the haggling, a mutually satisfactory middle ground may be eventually found.

In stages, both parties give some, take some — and actually end up both winners.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 19, 2013)

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