Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago, during interpellation yesterday, said she would vote against concurrence with President Aquino’s ratification of the RP-Australia Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Pres. Aquino certified the treaty as urgent, and it was sponsored last Monday by Sen. Loren Legarda, with the intention to have a Senate vote by tomorrow (Wednesday, June 6) before the Senate adjourns sine die.
“This treaty violates the doctrine of void for vagueness. It is so vague that it will spawn myriad irritants in RP-Australia relations,” said Santiago, an expert in international law and former chair of the Senate foreign relations committee.
Santiago pointed to the VFA Art. 5, para. 1, which provides that the Visiting Forces 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.
On another point, Santiago criticized the VFA because it does not specify the magnitude of Australian military presence within the Philippines.
“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.
Santiago added that the VFA, Art. 13, para. 8 (a), which provides for the exemption of Australian Forces from duties and taxes will require the concurrence of a majority of all the members of Congress.
She cited the Philippine Constitution, Article 6, Sec. 28, para (4), which provides: “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.
On still another point, Santiago said that the VFA rules on criminal jurisdiction embodied in Art. 11 might be unconstitutional, because it impinges on the exclusive power of the Supreme Court to “promulgate rules concerning pleadings, practice and procedure in all courts” under the Constitution, Art. 8, Sec. 5 para. (5).
Finally, Santiago singled out the VFA Art. 11, para. 12 which provides that: “A sentence of death shall not be carried out by either Party.”
“The Philippine Constitution allows the death penalty for ‘compelling reasons involving heinous crimes,’” Santiago said, citing the Philippine Constitution, Art. 3, Sec. 19, para. 1. “Thus, there seems to be a conflict between the VFA and the Philippine Constitution,” she said.
Santiago said that the proponents of the RP-Australian VFA have not made clear what is the constitutional basis for the Philippines to allow our military forces to be trained by a Visiting Force in our own territory.
“Why should Filipino military forces be trained by Australians in Philippine territory? Why are we not capable of training our own military forces within our own country?” she asked.