Palace told: Indefinitely suspend VFA, while talks of renegotiation is on

Palace told: Indefinitely suspend VFA, while talks of renegotiation is on

A group calling for the abrogation of the controversial Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) on Saturday urged Malacanang to immediately and indefinitely suspend the effectivity of the military agreement, while talks of its renegotiation or possible scrapping is still being finalized by senators and officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

In a press statement, the fisherfolk alliance Pamalakaya said President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo should immediately notify the US government of the proposed suspension of the VFA because talks are underway for its renegotiation or possible abrogation as the case may be.

Malacanang on Friday said it was supporting the position of some senators to renegotiate the VFA and has asked the Commission on the VFA to work with senators on the issue.

But Palace deputy press secretary Lorelei Fajardo appealed to senators not set aside the gains and benefits the country are getting from the military agreement, which the Senate ratified in 1999, eight years after the same constitutional body rejected the 1991 RP-US Military Bases Agreement.

“Given this latest development in the Senate and the mounting protest against the military agreement, the executive department led by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her defense and foreign affairs officials should open their hearts and minds for the immediate suspension of the VFA and the near future dissolution of the VFA in the name of national sovereignty and public interest,” Pamalakaya’s Hicap added.

To put premimum to its assertion that the VFA should be abrogated, Pamalakaya said in Bicol region where one of the joint RP-US military exercises was held this year, their members saw US troops joining their local counterparts in conducting census activities which they said were part of the surveillance operations conducted by the Armed Forces of the Philippines against the New People’s Army in the region.

“As far as we are concerned US troops are strictly prohibited from conducting census and military surveillance according to the 1987 Constitution because its violates the sovereign rights of the Filipino people and by nature, by design and by purpose the census participated by US troops is US military intervention,” the group said.

“Why they are allowed to join government census? It is not the job of American mercenaries to conduct census and surveillance unless they are really planning something big like directing and joining actual combat operations against state targets. It is not even the job of AFP regular forces to conduct census since it is the job of civilian authorities,” said Pamalakaya.

In a report sent to Pamalakaya headquarters in Quezon, it said small fishermen started seeing US personnel joining the military census activities in Barangay Mayngaran in Masbate City, Barangay Bagacay, Marintuk, Lalaguna and Balatukan in Mobo town, barangays Marcilla, Dapdap, Panisihan, Buenvista, Armenia, Sawang, Buenasuerte and Magsaysay in Uson town, and in the municipality of Cataingan proper all in Masbate.

Lambat-Bicol also noted the disturbing presence of US troops in Oas town, Albay, particularly in the farming villages of San Pascual, San Miguel and Talisay, where the 5th engineering battalion of the Philippine Army is currently detailed. A number of US troops were also seen in Barangay Liyang, municipality of Irosin in Sorsogon province, ahead of the scheduled RP-US joint military exercises last March.

Pamalakaya said the survey of communities was followed by the announcement of Mr. Celso del Socorro, Officer-in-charge of Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Reforms (BFAR-V) about its plan to impose a region-wide fish ban in Bicol once the Balikatan exercises start in April 2009.

The fish ban according to Pamalakaya was announced, because the war games will make use of the interconnecting bodies of water in Bicol region namely the Ragay Gulf, Albay Gulf and Sorsogon Bay that join the provinces of Camarines Sur, Camarines Norte, Albay, Sorsogon and Masbate for the loading and unloading of 3,000 US troops and personnel who will participate in the Balikatan exercises.

To show proof that a Balikatan-induced fish ban was implemented, a fish ban in the form of curfew in three coastal towns— Tiwi, Tabacco and Malilipot, all in Albay province were executed last Feb. affecting the fish capture activities of not less than 10,000 small fisherfolk.

The curfew ordinance in Tiwi, Tabaco and Malilipot was effectively utilized to effect a fish ban ahead and during the Balikatan exercises. The three coastal areas in Albay are being used as pilot areas for the Bicol wide fish ban in the name of the RP-US Balikatan exercises and the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) last march.

Reports that reached the national secretariat office of Pamalakaya said the local government units and barangay officials in mentioned coastal towns in Albay have started implementing a 9-hour fish curfew and fish ban from 8:00 pm to 5:00 am beginning February 23 until the Balikatan exercises officially ended sometime in April. #

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