By Perry Diaz
What’s going on in the heads of some of our senators? Haven’t they learned that the Philippines’ defense was weakened when the Senate evicted the U.S. military bases in 1991? Now, without warships and warplanes to defend our country, our government is begging the United States to promise that she will defend the Philippines from Chinese invasion of the Scarborough Shoal or the Spratly islands.
The Senate should be thankful that Australia is willing to train our military forces, which are badly in need of training. With antiquated weaponry and lack of training, our armed forces don’t have the capability to deter an incursion or invasion by China. But one thing that would make China think twice before attacking our territory is the presence of American or Australian military forces on our land.
The question is: What does Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago have in mind on how to defend our territory in the event of foreign invasion? What alternative defense plan does she have?
In my opinion, it’s time for the Philippines to emerge from self-imposed isolation and begin developing mutual defense treaties with friendly democratic countries like Australia.
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Defence treaty with Australia faces rough sailing in Philippine Senate
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago voiced opposition to its passage
By Gilbert P. Felongco, Correspondent
Manila: An agreement aimed at institutionalising the conduct of joint military exercises between Filipino and Australian troops faces further rough sailing at the Senate after one of the senators voiced opposition to its passage.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said she would vote against concurrence with President Benigno Aquino III’s ratification of the Philippines-Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) because its provisions does not concur with Philippine laws.
According to Defensor-Santiago, the Philippines-Australian SOFVA could have negative implications for the Philippines because, particularly in cases where Australian soldiers have committed crimes of offences during the conduct of joint military exercises.
She said that the VFA rules on criminal jurisdiction 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.
“This treaty violates the doctrine of void for vagueness. It is so vague that it will spawn myriad irritants in RP (Republic of the Philippines)-Australia relations,” said Santiago, an expert in international law and former chair of the Senate foreign relations committee
“The Philippine Constitution allows the death penalty for ‘compelling reasons involving heinous crimes,’” Santiago said. “Thus, there seems to be a conflict between the SOVFA 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 Philippine territory.
Aquino had certified the treaty as urgent, and it was sponsored last Monday by Sen. Loren Legarda.
The SOFVA had earlier been approved by then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo in 2007, but just like any other treaty entered into by the chief executive, it has to pass successive ratification by the Senate. But for some reason, the agreement did not make it past the Upper Chamber scrutiny due to some deficiencies.
Santiago pointed to a provision in the SOFVA, Article 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 criticised 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.
The SOFVA is a bilateral agreement between the Philippines and the Commonwealth of Australia with regards to the status of visiting forces from each state while in the territory of another state. It concerns the rights waived by either state since in the case of the Philippines, the Constitution bars the presence of armed forces of another country within its territory.
Currently, only forces of the United States is allowed in the country under the mantle of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
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Joker, Miriam, Bongbong together again vs SOVFA
By Christina Mendez
The Philippine Star
MANILA, Philippines – Senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor Santiago and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. are together again, this time in expressing reservations over the Senate’s move to concur with the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) between the Philippines and Australia.
Santiago said concurrence of the Philippines “may threaten the sovereignty of the country.”
“They want to have a special status in our country, above and beyond that to be enjoyed by a foreigner. We already have a Bill of Rights under the Constitution. Ang pakay lang natin, mabigyan ng special status ang kanilang bansa (Our intention is to give their country special status),” Santiago said during interpellation of the agreement yesterday.
Unlike the Philippines’ VFA with the United States, which Washington did not submit to the US Congress for concurrence, the Australian parliament ratified the SOVFA a few years ago.
Australian officials have stressed that the SOVFA provides for reciprocity, meaning all rights enjoyed by Australian forces visiting the Philippines will be enjoyed by Filipino troops in Australia.
Santiago said the SOVFA will reduce Philippine sovereignty and may even pose a threat to the security of the Filipino people.
She called on Malacañang to clarify the specific activities of the visiting Australian forces.
Santiago raised a concern on the criminal jurisdiction of the agreement, which is under Article 11. She said the article impinges on the exclusive power of the Supreme Court.
But Sen. Loren Legarda, chair of the Senate foreign relations committee, explained that the provision on criminal jurisdiction aims to provide clearer rules on custody and confinement
“I cannot believe that the SOVFA encroaches on the SC because that power does not bestow on jurisdiction,” Legarda said.
Santiago also pointed to a provision about “death penalty,” which should not be carried out by both parties. “How do you resolve the apparent conflict in the position of the death penalty and the provision on Constitution?” Santiago asked.
Under Article 3, Section 19 of the Constitution, Santiago noted that death penalty can be allowed for “compelling reasons involving heinous crimes.”
Santiago cited some loopholes in the agreement, particularly Article 13 paragraph 8, which provides for the exemption from duties and taxes of the visiting Australian forces.
She added such agreement should require the concurrence of a majority of all members of Congress.
Santiago said the treaty violates the “doctrine of void for vagueness.”
“It is so vague that it will spawn myriad irritants in Philippine-Australia relations,” she said.
She also criticized the agreement because it did not specify the magnitude of Australian military presence in the country.
Marcos, on the other hand, sought a clarification on the government’s foreign policy before he concurs with the agreement.
He said there is a need to include in the equation the aggressiveness of China in asserting its rights over the West Philippine Sea.
“It’s becoming a little delicate because many of the critics of the Australian VFA are also saying this is only a method of forward positioning, again to posture against China,” Marcos said.
He lamented that the government does not have a well-explained and well-thought out foreign policy.
“So we do not know exactly how we are supposed to do with our relationship with other countries,” Marcos said.
Arroyo, for his part, said that the agreement will be disadvantageous to the Philippine government.
“We don’t have benefit and I don’t know what’s the harm… (Australia) is even giving us a hard time in terms of products,” Arroyo said.
“So we should look into it, on what advantages we should get,” he said.
Arroyo noted that Australia had been banning Philippine fruits such as mangoes, bananas and pineapples.
“Our balance of trade is P500 million in import… lopsided in the balance of our trade (with Australia),” he noted.
Responding to Arroyo’s queries, Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the government should balance the military alliance with economic concerns.
“We need military alliance because we cannot go it alone with our military resources,” Enrile said.
The Senate on Monday tackled a resolution concurring with the ratification of SOVFA.
Legarda noted in her sponsorship speech that Australia and the Philippines are two sovereign nations whose survival will be defined by its defense and protection of its maritime domains.
“We share with Australia a strong interest in maritime security cooperation and a shared strategic interest in the security of Southeast Asian shipping lanes,” she added.