Hillary won’t raise Visiting Forces Agreement review during visit
By Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) Updated November 12, 2009 12:00 AM
MANILA, Philippines – The RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) will not be raised by the United States during the meeting of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Philippine officials, but the issue of human rights is expected to be discussed.
“From our side, we don’t actually intend to discuss any specific agreement we have with the Philippines, whether it’s the VFA, trade agreement, any of our other mutual defense cooperation,” US Ambassador Kristie Kenney told radio stationdzBB.
“Everyone has his own issue that they hope will come up in some way, shape or form and so I know there are people who want details of the VFA discussed,” Kenney said.
Militant groups calling for a review or scrapping of the VFA said the visit of Clinton to Manila for consultation with Philippine officials is an opportunity to deliver the message to US government to revisit the agreement.
“I’ll not speak to what message the Filipino people, the Philippine public, the Philippine Congress might offer to the Secretary of State. What is on her mind and what she hears from people here may be totally different,” Kenney added.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said she believed Clinton will visit Manila because of concerns over calls to scrap the VFA and seek assurance that the Philippines will stick to the accord.
Clinton’s visit takes place as the Philippines pins its hope on the State Department to delete the conditions Washington set on its military aid to the country.
The $2-million military aid to the Philippines in 2009 was withheld allegedly because of human rights abuses previously raised by groups and churches in the US.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo said the Obama administration recently requested upon submission of its 2010 budget request the deletion of conditions on the US$2 million security assistance in the 2009 appropriations act in recognition of significant progress made by the Philippines in addressing human rights concerns.
During the Veterans Day ceremony yesterday at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial in Taguig City, Kenney said human rights, and how the two countries can work together on it, will be included in the subjects for discussion.
“Secretary Clinton is a strong advocate of human rights so I’m sure she’ll talk about ways that we can all work together on human rights and ways and the situation like Burma,” Kenney said in a chance interview.
Watchdog cites US responsibility
On Tuesday, a human rights watchdog urged Clinton to press President Arroyo to prosecute military members responsible for politically motivated killings.
Because of the historically close relations between the US and the Philippines, and the direct US support for the Philippine military, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said there is particular responsibility on Washington to press the government to end the military’s involvement in human rights violations and to prosecute those responsible.
“Clinton should not waste this opportunity to raise human rights concerns in the Philippines,” said Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at HRW. “Clinton should make it very clear that the failure to seriously address unlawful killings could harm relations, particularly military-to-military cooperation,” she stressed.
HRW urged Clinton to raise several crucial human rights issues, noting that the Arroyo administration has not sufficiently investigated numerous extrajudicial killings where the military has been implicated.
It stressed that the government has yet to take strong action against local government-backed “death squads” in Davao City and elsewhere, and has tolerated unnecessary delays in investigations into these killings.
Tight security measures
Meanwhile, strict security measures are set for the arrival of Clinton at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) at around 12:00 noon today.
As a standard operating procedure, retired general Angel Atutubo, NAIA assistant general for security and emergency services, discussed the security arrangement for the official visit of one of the most powerful women in the world during a press briefing.
Aside from the airport’s various security personnel, which included the PNP-Aviation Security Group, Airport Police Department, Private security personnel, a special coordination with Southern Police District was also tapped for the arrival.
As early as Monday, US Embassy personnel conducted ocular inspection at the Ages hangar, a private aviation bay where top US and other foreign officials land their plane when visiting the country, as part of strict security measures.
Clinton is set to meet Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo, US Ambassador Kenney, Philippine Ambassador to the US Willy Gaa, NAIA general manager Alfonso Cusi and some top government officials at the airport.
The US Secretary of State will stay in the Philippines for one day and will leave for Singapore on Friday. She will return to the Lion City to attend the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting.
Militants are agitated
Clinton’s visit is expected to be marred by protest from militants calling for the scrapping of the treaty.
Some 30 members of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) tried to get past but were blocked by the police yesterday near the US embassy in Manila, a day before Clinton’s much-publicized arrival.
“The continuing permanent presence of US troops is a complete throwback to the days of US colonialism in the country. It is a proof that we remain under the beck and call of the Americans,” LFS secretary-general Terry Ridon said in a statement.
Ridon said Clinton’s visit is the best opportunity to show that the VFA had been an absolute affront to the Philippines’ national sovereignty and territorial integrity.
He said the humanitarian work by the US military during the recent typhoons was just a ruse by US authorities to legitimize military intervention in the country.
LFS said yesterday’s lightning rally was just a prelude to an even bigger anti-VFA rally scheduled today.
Because of this, the Manila Police District will deploy some 300 policemen, backed up by at least 100 civil disturbance management personnel from the National Capital Region Police Office, at the US embassy as early as 7 a.m. today for the projected rallies.
Two fire trucks are also on standby near the embassy.
Ermita police station chief Superintendent Romulo Sapitula said he directed his men to exercise maximum tolerance against the rallyists, even as the Commission on Human Rights will send representatives to document the protest actions.
The rallyists will be prevented from marching to the US embassy, but will instead be escorted to designated rally sites in Manila such as the Liwasang Bonifacio, according to Sapitula – With Rudy Santos, Nelson Etolle, Paolo Romero, James Mananghaya, AP