Aquino rejects calls to scrap VFA

MANILA (Updated) -- President Benigno Aquino III dismissed Monday calls to abolish the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States following the murder of a transgender allegedly perpetrated by an American serviceman in Olongapo City.

"Bakit natin kailangan i-abrograte 'yung VFA? I mean, name me any place that doesn't have crime," the Chief Executive told reporters after the commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the Leyte Gulf Landing in Tacloban City.

He said the "sin" of one person should not be reflective of the entire country.

Some militant groups have been demanding the Aquino administration to abrogate the VFA after Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude was found dead in a hotel in Olongapo City on October 11.

Laude was allegedly killed by United States Marines Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.

"So, ang importante dito mayroong krimen na nangyari, kunin lahat 'nung ebidensiyang magpapatunay na ang may salarin ang may kasalanan dito, at magkaroon tayo ng katarungan," Aquino said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario and Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin have already been coordinating with US Ambassador Philip Goldberg regarding Pemberton's custody.

"And at the very least making sure, based on the treaty again, that he is available or the suspects are available for both investigations in any and all judicial processes," he said.

House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte, for his part, said the death of Laude is not enough reason to repeal various agreements and treaties with the US government such as the Mutual Defense Treaty, VFA and the recently signed Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).

"It has something to do with our defense posture. Our position in the face of the power structure of the world and so forth that definitely can't be acquainted with only one incident, wherein we do not even know the facts of the incident," Belmonte said.

He said he is in favor subjecting to review certain provisions of VFA.

"I'm for the review but yung VFA primarily is the Concern of the Senate. Under the Constitution, the senators are called upon to review and confirm or reject this agreement, and the EDCA is an executive agreement but base on the existing agreement in the past [such as VFA and Mutual Defense treaty," the Speaker said. (SDR/John Carlo Cahinhinan/Sunnex)
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