STATUS OF FORCES AGREEMENT (SOFA) BY
AN OVERVIEW AND SALIENT POINTS
by Prof. Roland G. Simbulan
National Chairperson, Nuclear Free Phils. Coalition
An agreement which has grave implications and constrictions on Philippine national sovereignty and territorial integrity is about to be inflicted upon the Filipino people especially as the Ramos administration prepares to celebrate the centennial of our short-lived Philippine independence. They are about to foist upon us a status of forces agreement (SOFA), sugar-coated officially as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VISFA), which now challenges us this Centennial year to rededicate this occasion to complete the struggle against imperialism in its new forms and techniques. This is an occasion for renewed anti-imperialist unity and solidarity. This is an issue that demands our utmost, and immediate attention especially if we wish to be true to the ideals of the 1896 revolution and our independence struggle. This is an issue that requires no less than a broad front of concerned Filipinos regardless of political, religious, or ideological bloc or persuasion.
The provisions of the status of forces agreement (SOFA) merely recycle what used to be provisions for US military basing rights in the country. The SOFA agreement resurrects and revives many of the onerous and most objectionable features of the 1947 Military Bases Agreement, the subsequent cosmetic amendments in 1959 and 1965, and the 1991 Treaty of Friendship, Cooperation and Security rejected by the Philippine Senate. Many of these provisions are being revived almost verbatim from the old defunct documents and agreements. Thus, the proposed SOFA is a sneaky attempt by the United States armed forces of “getting one foot inside the door” and then later on taking other bigger steps to once again actively use our territory for internal, regional and global intervention.
Forging a military access or status of forces agreement with the United States or any foreign power to give foreign forces landing, berthing and extra-territorial rights and privileges on any part of Philippine territory shows that some Filipino officials are not yet ready to celebrate the entennial of Asia’s first independent republic. At best, it shows that these officials are better prepared to celebrate our continuing colonial status under a colonial army and under the tutelage of the United States. Instead, they are fittingly commemorating the real centennial: 100 years from a collaborationist general to a puppet general. And lest we forget, this is also the 100th year of the emergence of US imperialism as a global power which fought its first Asian land war with its annihilation of our first Phil. Republic.
The forging of this Status of Forces Agreement confirms the long-held apprehension that, indeed, the US armed forces plans a military comeback here and is preparing for a very active military presence in the Phils. No Status of forces Agreement for visiting US forces on military exercises or port visits is necessary or should even be requested unless the United States plans a very active and regular military presence in the Phils. Previously, an accompanying draft Acquisition & Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) prepared by the RP-US Mutual Defense Board was foiled in 1994, but it fully exposed the Pentagon’s plans to preposition and stockpile US was materiel & armaments on Phil. ports and airfields, such as the USAID - funded project in Gen. Santos City & Sarangani Bay in Mindanao. This is a conspiracy against the very Constitution of the Republic of the Phils.
But the Status of Forces Agreement is even worse than the provisions of the former basing agreements, including the provisions of the proposed treaty of friendship, cooperation and security rejected in 1991 by the Philippine Senate. The following are the salient features of the status of forces agreement (SOFA):
SOFA ONLY FOR BASING RIGHTS
Let us reiterate that:
There is no need for a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) or a similar SOFA agreement because such extra-territorial arrangements covering legal jurisdiction, tax exemptions, customs & immigration waivers, etc. are only granted by host countries of US military bases or facilities. There are no more US bases here since 1992, unless a restoration of such bases is being planned. If US personnel will be visiting the Philippines only on temporary or short visits, then they should be treated like any other visiting foreign tourist or visitor who have to completely comply and obey our laws so that any infraction thereof shall be subject to our laws and courts. This is the mark of all sovereign and independent countries. Any crime against any person committed in our territory, whether the victim is our national or foreigner is a crime against our laws and is to submit himself/herselfto our courts. If the United States is able to get away with this kind of arrangement in other countries where there are no more bases, as it claims, then we should not allow ourselves to be treated similarly in our own territory if we want to gain the respect of other nations. The provisions of the SOFA or VFA draft are almost provisions lifted from the old bases agreement rejected in 1991 by the Phil. Senate, and any country that allows them to be implemented even when there are no more bases or US facilities can only be a de facto colony or trust territory of the US. In Japan & Okinawa, which still host US military bases, SOFA or similar VFA provisions are precisely being opposed and objected to by their citizens.
a) The VFA agreement will make a mockery of our Constitutional provisions related to the prohibition of nuclear weapons. To comply with this, any visiting foreign military vessel or aircraft will have to officially declare as in customs declarations that they do not carry any nuclear weapons or parts thereof upon entering our territory or its territorial waters. The VFA agreement completely ignores and is quiet about this.
c) There is no reciprocity where the same privileges or waivers are given to Filipino military personnel because our troops do not similarly visit the US in their thousands. Although the Executive branch has recently conceded that this document should now be submitted to the Senate for ratification, we observe that the title “Agreement” is used instead of a “Treaty” because even if this document were to be ratified by the Philippine Senate, the United States government refuses to reciprocate by submitting it to their own Senate for ratification as a treaty. Our Constitution requires that such reciprocity in the ratification process by the contracting parties is done before foreign military presence is “allowed” on Phil. soil.
d) There is no limitation as to how many US troops are allowed in the Philippines; how long US troops will stay on Philippine territory; nor a duration to the agreement itself which makes its termination indefinite.
We reiterate our call for the rejection of an unconstitutional and onerous agreement such as the proposed status of forces agreement now packaged as Visiting Forces Agreement.
first, it abdicates --- wholesale --- our country’s economic and political sovereignty and national dignity, despite token assurances and pretence of reciprocity;
second, because it ignores the pertinent provisions of the 1987 Philippine Constitution such as the prohibition on nuclear weapons for all visiting foreign military vessels and also it ignores provisions that require a treaty duly ratified by the Senate before foreign military troops and facilities could be allowed on Philippine territory;
and third, because it surrenders the entire Philippine territory to US military forces and US military regulations by granting them extraterritorial rights wherever and whenever they violate our laws.
This draft SOFA virtually leads to a de facto recolonization of the Philippines by the United States because, in this draft SOFA, we abdicate among other things, our right to collect Philippine customs duties and taxes from visiting US military personnel and visiting civilian employees of the US Department of Defense or perhaps even their intelligence agents. US government property, equipment, materials, supplies, even personal property and baggage of US military personnel are exempted from both Philippine customs and immigration procedures such as visa requirements. In the case of the movement and entry of US military vessels and aircraft on any part of Philippine territory, the draft states that they are “not subject to payment of landing or port fees, navigation or overflight charges, or other use charges including light and harbor dues.” It states that US military vessels and aircraft “may enter the Philippines upon reasonable notification to the govt. of the Philippines,” but completely ignores the Constitutional ban on nuclear weapons which should require all foreign military vessels and aircraft to declare that they do not carry any nuclear weapons as prohibited by the Philippine’s fundamental law.
If this one-sided agreement is formalized, it makes the entire country an open field for foreign military maneuvers, target practice and bombing exercises by foreign soldiers. Foreign troops are to be granted special privileges not even granted to Filipino nationals such as in importations of materials --- tax free!. Likewise, if certified “on duty” by their U.S. commanders, they enjoy criminal immunity as their canons wreak havoc on our environment and on our women and children while on “rest and recreational activities.”
As pointed out, the SOFA draft attempts to smuggle in the very same provisions that were already rejected as part of the proposed bases treaty that was rejected on Sept. 16, 1991 by the Philippine Senate. The SOFA draft vainly tries to hide this fact by claiming that it is an “agreement” or “Memorandum of Understanding on Defense Cooperation” in “furtherance of the Mutual Defense Treaty of 1951” or “in connection with MDT-related activities & bilateral activities.” This is a crude attempt to exempt this agreement from Senate ratification as a new treaty.
We should remind both the U.S. and Philippine military panels that drafted this agreement that the Philippines is not anymore officially a U.S. colony, neither is it or any parts of it still or again a U.S. military base.
Why should U.S. military personnel be exempt from Philippine driving permits or vehicle registration while using US military or official vehicles in the Philippines?
Why should US military personnel and civilian Department of Defense employees be exempt from criminal jurisdiction by the mere certification of a US military commander who can certify that the offense was done while on official duty?
Why should the custody of US military offenders even in cases “where the Philippines may exercise jurisdiction” reside with US military authorities until completion of all judicial proceedings?
Do we have no self-respect that we desecrate the commemoration of the Centennial of the 1896 Philippine revolution, Philippine independence and the 1st Philippine Republic by once again legalizing the intrusion of foreign soldiers on our soil?
Now we can more fully understand why this draft agreement has been kept away for so long from the scrutiny of the Filipino people or the Philippine Senate. It is an agreement that hardly hides the fact, that it conspires against the national sovereignty and dignity of the Filipino people. Sadly, it also makes the Philippine government a willing conspirator against its own people and Constitution.
As our tribute to the 100 years of our national liberation struggle, we call on all true Filipinos to once again forge a formidable anti-imperialist unity and solidarity, remain vigilant and militant in the face of conspiratorial attempts to reverse our peoples’ hard won gains and victories.
The Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition (NFPC) is encouraging everyone to join the anti-SOFA/VFA campaign. Resources speakers and reading materials are available at the NFPC office (Rm. 312 UCCP Bldg., 877 EDSA, Quezon City) Telephone: 924-0215 loc. 121 Tele/Fax 931-1153; Email – email@example.com for those who are interested to sponsor a forum or discussion/study group or any activity related to this very important issue.