US says BCDA refuses to honor cemetery pact
Denying the accusation that it was “discriminating” against Filipino soldiers on Philippine soil, the United States on Sunday said Philippine servicemen who served the US Armed Forces and the Philippine Scouts may be interred at Clark Veterans Cemetery (CVC).
Kurt Hoyer, press attaché at the US Embassy in Manila, said in a statement late Saturday that the United States never objected to the burial of Filipinos who met such criteria, as “clearly spelled out” in the memorandum of understanding (MOU) that the Philippines and the United States signed in December 2013.
The pact provided for a US-led restoration of the long-neglected burial ground at the former US Air Force base in Pampanga province, a property of the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA).
The CVC serves as the final resting place for some 8,600 war veterans, including Americans and Filipino soldiers who served the Philippine Scouts, and their dependents.
“According to the agreement, those who served honorably in the Armed Forces of the United States of America, regardless of nationality, and those who served honorably in the Philippine Scouts qualify for burial at CVC,” Hoyer said in a statement sent to the Inquirer.
“The embassy has never objected to anyone meeting these criteria being interred at CVC. In fact, there are currently more Filipinos buried at CVC than there are Americans,” he said.
His comments were in response to a complaint aired by Arnel Paciano Casanova, president and chief executive officer of the BCDA, that US Deputy Chief of Mission in Manila Brian Goldbeck had expressed his opposition to the interment of Filipino soldiers at CVC during a meeting in October last year.
The BCDA chief stood pat on his words yesterday, saying the MOU criteria still left out Filipino soldiers who did not serve the US Armed Forces and the Philippine Scouts, a US military organization in the Philippines that deployed US-commanded Filipino troops from the Philippine-American war until World War II.
It was Casanova who signed the MOU on behalf of the Philippine government. Despite the criteria, he said, the right of Filipino soldiers to be buried on Philippine land was “a given” and should not be denied.
“They (US side) are burying veterans from the Afghan and Iraq war. It has nothing to do with Clark anymore. But they would not allow [our soldiers] to be buried there,” Casanova said of US veterans of more recent wars who had died after settling here on retirement.
“The right of our Filipino soldiers to be buried in that cemetery cannot be subject to any negotiation, because that is the right of our soldiers. It’s supposedly embedded there (the agreement),” he said when reached by phone yesterday.
Hoyer said Casanova’s order was “in direct contravention of the agreement.” He said the BCDA suspended burials “due to his insistence that terms of the MOU be renegotiated mere months after he himself signed the document negotiated by his government and the government of the United States.”
Interments have since resumed, but only after the United States appealed to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Malacañang “to convince Mr. Casanova to honor the agreement he signed and to honor the memories of those qualified for burial at CVC,” Hoyer said.
He said the embassy was left perplexed as to why Casanova had refused to honor the pact he had signed himself. With no other recourse, the embassy
decided to bring the matter up to higher Philippine government offices, when “repeated attempts to reason with
Mr. Casanova directly” had failed.