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VFA addendum to cover US soldiers’ custody

Michael Punongbayan - The Philippine Star
VFA addendum to cover US soldiersâ custody
Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the specifics of the supplementary document are still being discussed and, if and when approved, will be attached to the Visiting Forces Agreement that President Duterte has decided to restore.
Michael Varcas, file

MANILA, Philippines — The Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces (PCVF), in partnership with the United States, is crafting a supplementary agreement that will address the custody issue of American soldiers who will commit offenses or crimes in the Philippines.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana said the specifics of the supplementary document are still being discussed and, if and when approved, will be attached to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that President Duterte has decided to restore.

“There is actually a document being made in partnership with the Americans by the Presidential Commission on Visiting Forces. Unfortunately, I’m not privy to that document. I only heard that it’s already there at the Office of the President,” Lorenzana said in an interview with online news outfit Rappler yesterday.

“But I believe before the VFA letter of termination was retracted by the President, they didn’t touch it because if VFA was abrogated, then it would not be worth anything. I believe that after the retraction of the termination letter the document would proceed. I believe it will be reviewed. I hope I can also see it so I can talk about it,” he said.

Lorenzana said one of the issues to be addressed by the supplementary agreement is the custody of American soldiers committing offenses while in the country, which the original VFA gives to the US.

He said many Filipinos are against this, especially in cases of rape or homicide, “despite the fact they committed the crimes here in the Philippines. So that is one of the most contentious issues.”

Lorenzana said the additional agreement has nothing to do with Duterte’s decision to recall his termination order against the VFA following the visit of US Defense Secretary Lloyed Austin to the Philippines last week.

Responding to a query on whether or not the President asked for such additional agreement as a precondition to retract his earlier decision to abrogate the VFA, Lorenzana said no, and that he took it upon himself to look into the crafting of the addendum.

With the VFA back on track, Lorenzana said the Balikatan and other small-scale exercises between Philippine and US soldiers will hopefully go full blast next year if the problem with the COVID-19 pandemic finally comes to an end.

However, he noted the VFA will not include joint exercises or patrols yet with the US in the West Philippine Sea or South China Sea with the ongoing issue between the Philippines and China, though the US may conduct patrols on their own if they want to.

Besides, Lorenzana said the Armed Forces of the Philippines does not have enough assets to contribute in such patrols as Philippine Navy ships are also busy looking after the welfare of Filipino fishermen in the West Philippine Sea.

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