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RP, Australia sign defense pact

by AJLPP Friday, Jun. 01, 2007 at 11:28 PM
magsasakapil@hotmail.com 213-241-0906 337 Glendale Blvd. LosA ngeles, CA 90026

The Philippines and Australia signed signed a security pact yesterday that will allow the countries’ militaries to hold joint counterterrorism exercises. The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is the second such agreement entered into by the Philippines. President Arroyo and Australian Prime Minister John Howard witnessed the signing of the agreement by Defense Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. and Australian Minister for Defense Dr. Brendan Nelson. Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo vowed to question SOFA and said that they would press for the public disclosure of all the terms indicated in the agreement. “The VFA has already allowed the year-round presence of American troops. Now, they have the SOFA and they are saying that they are also taking other countries. How many soldiers from foreign countries would be allowed in our country?” he asked. Ocampo said Congress, particularly the committee on foreign affairs, was not informed about the provisions of the agreement.

RP, Australia sign defense pact

By Marvin Sy

Friday, June 1, 2007

CANBERRA (via PLDT) – The Philippines and Australia signed signed a security pact yesterday that will allow the countries’ militaries to hold joint counterterrorism exercises.

The Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) is the second such agreement entered into by the Philippines.

President Arroyo and Australian Prime Minister John Howard witnessed the signing of the agreement by Defense Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane Jr. and Australian Minister for Defense Dr. Brendan Nelson.

“This is an agreement that will help us to have interoperability among our forces in the fight against terrorism, and it will help us in intelligence fusion. Overall, it will be good for our battle against terrorism,” the President said.

Howard, for his part, expressed optimism that the SOFA, with its counter-terrorism training component, “will be widely welcomed.”

Under the pact, Australia has promised to donate 28 high-speed gunboats worth about .28 million to the Philippine military.

The pact would also provide for large-scale joint exercises by the defense forces of Australia and the Philippines, where al-Qaeda linked militants and other insurgents have a foothold in the country’s restive south.

The SOFA has neither a provision for setting up military bases in either country or one that allows visiting troops to take part in any combat mission in the host country.

Once a harsh critic of the Philippines on the war against terrorism, Australia is now giving the country a pat on the back for recent gains in the anti-terrorism effort.

“I think there have been significantly successful steps taken against terrorism by the Philippines, working very closely with Australia and other countries,” Howard said in a joint briefing at the courtyard of Parliament House.

Lengthy discussions

The RP-Australian SOFA was signed after lengthy discussions on issues of the death penalty and criminal jurisdiction.

Jurisdiction and custody in criminal matters had become a sensitive matter because of the controversy generated by the rape case filed against United States serviceman Daniel Smith.

Smith was convicted of raping a Filipina in the Philippines but for the duration of the trial and even after conviction, he remained under the custody of the US Embassy in Manila.

Malacañang said yesterday that this pact with Australia is an improvement over the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The US was the first country to have a VFA with the Philippines, but there were several interpretations on its provisions, particularly on the issue of custody.

Ebdane noted that the RP-Australia SOFA has specifically defined the provisions on jurisdiction.

Ebdane made it clear that the SOFA provides that jurisdiction and custody would be with the country where the crime was committed before and after conviction.

Concerns were also raised by the Australians on the issue of the death penalty during early discussions when this was still in effect in the Philippines.

However, Congress repealed the death penalty law middle of last year after much prodding from the international community.

Focus on training and education

Ebdane explained that foreign soldiers would only be involved in training and education and in disaster relief and development activities whenever needed.

While Australia already provides counter-terrorism training to Philippine troops, Nelson said the new agreement provided a legal framework to expand military cooperation.

“Ongoing cooperation between the two nations is vital to addressing regional and broader security concerns, including the fight against transnational terrorism,” Nelson said.

He stressed though that the agreement did not provide authorization for Australia to deploy troops to or conduct operations in the Philippines.

The Philippine Senate and the Australian Parliament have to ratify the document for the SOFA to take effect.

It is expected to breeze through the Australian Parliament but there is no certainty that the Philippine Senate would act on it immediately.

There is a huge possibility that the Senate would be dominated by members of the opposition and with it comes uncertainty on how they would support an administration-backed measure.

However, based on numerous discussions by the Senate under the 13th Congress, it appears that most of the senators welcome the signing of defense agreements with other countries.

Full disclosure

The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) picketed the Australian Embassy in Makati hours before the signing of the agreement.

Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo vowed to question SOFA and said that they would press for the public disclosure of all the terms indicated in the agreement.

“The VFA has already allowed the year-round presence of American troops. Now, they have the SOFA and they are saying that they are also taking other countries. How many soldiers from foreign countries would be allowed in our country?” he asked.

Ocampo said Congress, particularly the committee on foreign affairs, was not informed about the provisions of the agreement.

He said he would raise the issue at the closing session of the 13th Congress next week. – With Paolo Romero, AFP, AP

*************

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