MANILA, Philippines ? The Department of National Defense said on Sunday it would take a back seat in the ?internal review? of the 1999 RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which has allowed the large-scale presence of American soldiers in the country since the US military bases were closed down in 1991.
Defense spokesperson Eduardo Batac said the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) would lead the review of the VFA as ordered by President Aquino.
?The department has been informed that the President is open to a review of the VFA. The lead agency in this matter is the DFA through the VFA Commission. This internal review is being undertaken,? Batac said, adding that the DND would ?coordinate? with its DFA counterparts.
Batac had to retract his previous statement to the media that the DND saw no need to revisit the controversial bilateral agreement with the United States.
He was reacting to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago's renewed call to terminate the VFA on the grounds that the arrangement did not help the Philippine military acquire modern equipment and destroy terrorist groups.
?We will wait for debates or action on this. We will just heed the recommendation of the legislators. When there is a necessity for us, we will review it,? Batac earlier said when asked for the DND's comment.
Mr. Aquino had read Batac's statement as reported in another newspaper and had called the attention of Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin to point out that he had ordered a review of the VFA.
Batac attributed his contradictory statement to a ?miscommunication.?
?The department cannot comment or interfere in the comments of our legislators. But we are open to the review of the VFA as the good senator (Santiago) has suggested,? he said.
Asked if the DND saw a need to review the VFA, Batac said: ?As far as the DND is concerned... there are a lot of advantages the Philippines has gotten from the VFA in terms of assistance. They have given us a lot of assistance.?
Santiago proposed a week ago that Congress unilaterally terminate the VFA through a joint resolution. She added that the foreign affairs secretary?s role would be to give the notice of termination to the United States.
She pointed out that the US did not treat the VFA as a treaty that needed Senate ratification, but as a mere executive agreement between Malacañang and the White House.
The Philippine Senate ratified the VFA on May 27, 1999.
Critics have decried the provision of the VFA that allowed the US government to retain jurisdiction over their military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines.
Calls for the VFA's abolition intensified after the US Embassy refused to hand over Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith after he was convicted of rape by the Makati Regional Trial Court in December 2006.
He remained in the custody of the US Embassy until the Court of Appeals acquitted him on April 23, 2009.