MANILA, Philippines – The controversial Daniel Smith incident will most likely be touched in the review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said.
“Yes, possible,” De Lima said when asked if the Daniel Smith incident will be discussed in the VFA review committee formed by President Benigno Aquino III.
De Lima has been named a member of the VFA review committee to be chaired by Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa.
“I am part again (review of the VFA). The President told me that I will be part of the review of the VFA by the DFA. It is chaired by Executive Secretary Pacquito Ochoa,” she said.
She said the focus will be on the provisions of the VFA which are more or less disadvantageous, onerous, or lopsided.
The VFA came under the public scrutiny following the controversial Subic rape on November 2005.
On December 4, 2006, Judge Benjamin Pozon, of the Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 139, found Smith guilty of rape, sentencing him to reclusion perpetua.
Three other co-accused were acquitted. The court ordered Smith’s detention at a jail. But Smith was placed under the custody of the US embassy in Manila after his camp cited the existing VFA.
On April 23, 2009, the Court of Appeals, reversed the decision of the lower court and ordered Smith's immediate release, stating that "... a careful and judicious perusal of the evidence on record does not convince the prudent mind about the moral certainty of the guilt of the accused, hence we must acquit him.”
Earlier, President Aquino had directed De Lima to take a look at the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States following renewed calls by some groups for its immediate abolition.
De Lima said she was part of the review panel of the VFA forged by the US and DFA. The panel will also review foreign policies related to the VFA.
Earlier, the President said he was amenable to a thorough review of the VFA.
Presidential Spokesman Edwin Lacierda said the President has not yet made a decision on whether the government would terminate the RP-US military deal pending the study being conducted by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
“The position of the President is that he is open to review the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Lacierda said in a press briefing at the Palace. “That will be studied by the DFA in consultation with the President,” he added.
For now, Lacierda said, there are “no discussion on the abrogation” of the VFA as far as the executive branch is concerned, although the DFA has recognized the benefits of having such military deal with the United States.
“The stand of the DFA right now is that it is an agreement which they are open for review which is also helpful for the Philippines as well in terms of security in the south. But the DFA is open for a review of the VFA,” he said.
Lacierda said the President stands by his personal commitment made when he was a senator that VFA forged between Manila and Washington should be studied anew.
He said then Senator Aquino signed a joint resolution calling for a review of such agreement.
On questions if Congress can abolish VFA without the consent of the President, Lacierda said they would leave to lawmakers and legal experts to debate on the matter.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago has pushed to scrap the VFA, saying Congress could unilaterally terminate the agreement without the need of presidential action.
Santiago filed Joint Resolution 3 asking the Foreign Affairs Secretary to give the notice of abrogation to the US.
Jeamma Sabate, Manila Bulletin