WikiLeaks bares plan to bury VFA review in ’09 (1/3)

First published in The Philippine Star, 22 October 2014

MANILA, Philippines – The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) had planned to “bury in bureaucracy” the review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in 2009 to take the “issue off the front pages” months before the 2010 elections, according to a confidential US embassy cable released by WikiLeaks.

The STAR recently reviewed the cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011 in the light of the death of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in Subic earlier this month, allegedly at the hands of a US marine. The suspect, Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, is under custody of his superiors on the USS Peleliu.

The incident sparked calls for a review or abrogation of the VFA.

One particular cable, dated Sept. 24, 2009 and supposedly classified confidential by then US ambassador to Manila Kristie Kenney, revealed the circumstances behind the Philippine government’s plan to review the VFA that year.

According to the cable, the DFA decided to conduct a comprehensive review of the VFA “to reduce the intensity of the debate and allow further consideration to take place in a less charged, post-election environment.”

The decision for a review happened amid the imminent passage of a Senate resolution, authored by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, asking the then-Arroyo administration to renegotiate or abrogate the VFA.

A portion of the cable, with the subhead “DFA Plan: Bury it in Bureaucracy,” cited an opinion from then DFA Assistant Secretary Lori Yparraguirre that a review “would likely take several months and could continue past the May 2010 election.”

“DFA also hopes the review will defuse some of the current tension and allow any further debate to take place in a less politically charged environment,” it added.

The cable also included a supposed assurance from former defense secretary Gilbert Teodoro to Kenney that “he did not personally feel the need for a review” even though it was mandated under Philippine regulations.

“The DFA believes that an exhaustive review is appropriate, as a required annual VFA review has never been carried out in the agreement’s 10-year history,” the document read.

The Aquino administration has not released any result of the supposed comprehensive VFA review conducted in 2009.

‘No to renegotiation’

In her supposed comment, Kenney noted that while the DFA announcement for a comprehensive review at the time would help move the issue off the front pages, “we will observe the process closely to ensure that it does not lead to an unwanted effort to renegotiate the agreement.”

“Senator Santiago’s proposal for a hasty, unilateral abrogation of the VFA – likely aimed at winning left-wing support for her likely re-election effort next May (2010) – would have a significant harmful impact on a wide range of US activities, including counterterrorism, military training and our ability to deliver assistance vital to the peace process in Mindanao,” read Kenney’s supposed comment.

It was not the first time that an embassy cable was leaked to reveal the US position against a renegotiation of the VFA.

In an earlier cable dated Sept. 19, 2009, Kenney’s supposed remarks noted concerns over provisions of the VFA that some quarters wanted clarified, particularly the one stipulating where American military personnel convicted of crimes in the Philippines should serve their sentence.

Kenney said they would welcome a review by US government lawyers to determine the best approach to clarify the custody provisions.

“Following such a review, Mission would aim to establish this clarification through quiet discussions that would allow us to reach a common understanding with the Philippine government without the need to formally renegotiate the entire VFA,” read the cable.

The cables were sent just months after the Court of Appeals overturned a guilty verdict against US serviceman Lance Corporal Daniel Smith for raping a Filipina in Subic in 2005.

 

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