Senate okays on 2nd reading resolution on ratification of SOVFA with Australia

June 6, 2012 11:15 pm 

MANILA, June 6 -– The Senate approved on second reading Wednesday Resolution No. 788 concurring with President Benigno Aquino III’s ratification of the Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOFVA) between the Philippines and Australia.

After the period of interpellation, the Senate decided to vote only on second reading with 12 senators supporting the agreement and seven voting against the treaty.

The senators who voted for include Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile and senators Loren Legarda, Jinggoy Estrada, Franklin Drilon, Vicente Sotto III, Pia Cayetano, Bong Revilla, Teofisto “TG” Guingona III, Antonio Trillanes IV, Edgardo Angara, Kiko Pangilinan, Panfilo Lacson and Gregorio Honasan.

Those who voted against the treaty were senators Joker Arroyo, Miriam Defensor Santiago, Koko Pimentel, Ralph Recto, Sergio Osmena III, Manny Villar and Bongbong Marcos.

Pangilinan took the podium and expressed reservation to explain his vote once the resolution is taken up on third reading when the Senate session resumes on July 23. The Congress adjourns sine die on June 7. The agreement called for the issuance of a Memorandum Order (MO) directing the Department of Energy and Natural Resources (DENR) to closely monitor the activities of the Australian Visiting Forces and its Civilian Component in the Philippines, and ensure that these activities do not violate any of the environmental laws and ordinances of the country.

“The Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA) with Australia sets a precedent in defense agreements in that it has unique provisions on environmental protection. The Agreement explicitly prohibits the conduct of exercises or other activities in protected areas, ancestral domain areas, critical watersheds and protected forest areas,” Senator Loren Legarda, sponsor of the resolution and chair of the Senate Committees on Foreign Relations and Climate Change, said.

“It also provides that any environmental damage will be subjected to claims and compensation and that the sending state will be responsible for the rehabilitation of damaged areas,” Legarda added.

The Agreement has unique provisions that address environmental protection.

“The Agreement will enforce the duties and obligations of both parties with respect to environmental protection, including the clean-up and restoration of any local site or body of water that may be affected by the activities allowed for under the Agreement,” Legarda explained.

“SOVFA will ensure that Australian Visiting Forces and its Civilian Component are well-informed of our environmental laws and regulations,” Legarda added.

The Agreement also calls for the Service Authorities of Australia to cooperate with the Philippine government to prevent any abuse or misuse of the privileges granted in favor of Australian Visiting Forces and its Civilian Component, and to ensure that proper discharge of the obligations imposed on the visiting party are met.

According to Legarda, there is also emphasis made in the SOVFA regarding the principle of respect for the laws of the receiving state.

“No offender from the visiting forces who commits a crime in the Philippines will escape justice under the SOVFA,” Legarda stressed.

The resolution also states that the Agreement must provide for a comprehensive legal framework that will govern the status of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Australian Defense Forces personnel who will participate in education, training, combined exercises and humanitarian activities in each other’s territories.

In expressing her opposition, Santiago said the treaty will violate the doctrine of void for vagueness.

”It so vague that it will spawn myriad irritants in RP-Australia relations,” Santiago said.

“Proponents of the Agreement between the Philippines and Australia have not made clear what the constitutional basis is for the Philippines to allow our military forces to be trained by a visiting force in our own territory,” Santiago added.

For his part, Arroyo insisted that the agreement will be disadvantageous to the Philippine government, noting that Australia has been banning Philippine fruits such as mangoes, bananas and pineapples.

“We should look into it, on what advantages we should get,” Arroyo said. (PNA) DCT/jfm

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