October 3, 2007
OPPOSITION SENATORS QUESTION
Senators Mar Roxas and Jinggoy Estrada called the attention of the Office of the President on its failure to officially transmit for Senate concurrence the Visiting Forces Agreement signed between the Republic of the Philippines and Government of Australia on May 31, 2007.
The two opposition senators noted that not much has been heard about the VFA with Australia after its signing in May of this year. "After the signing, we have not witnessed any formal effort on the part of the executive branch to push for the ratification of this bilateral agreement nor explain its features to the members of the Senate."
"Four months have lapsed since this Visiting Forces Agreement was signed. It was not even mentioned by the executive in any of the LEDAC meetings. Tomorrow, the Senate will adjourn for its customary break without holding a single hearing on this bilateral security pact. How important is this treaty to our defense establishment and our national interest? The executive branch should explain why it has yet to transmit this defense treaty to the Senate," the senators said, adding that such an inexplicable delay might be misinterpreted as disinterest in the treaty.
The two senators noted that government attention given to the VFA with Australia pales in comparison to vigorous debates and intense lobbying for and against the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States. Yet, both solons added, despite the intensive debates, the VFA turned out to have a basic flaw as revealed during the Subic Rape case where questions about custody of American soldiers surfaced. Roxas and Estrada said the Subic rape incident demonstrates the need for exhaustive studies and debates on similar defense agreements.
"Australia is one of the largest providers of defense training to our soldiers, second only to the United States. It has also been generous in funding human rights projects in the Philippines. Certainly, a defense agreement such as this deserves urgent attention from the Philippine side," Roxas and Estrada pointed out.
Then Defense Secretary Hermogenes Ebdane, Jr. and his Australian counterpart, Minister Brendan Nelson, signed the agreement during a state visit of President Gloria Arroyo to Australia from May 30-31 of this year.
Also signed during the President's official visit was the Australia-Philippines Development Assistance Strategy 2007-2011 that provides a significant increase in aid funding for the Philippines, with assistance in 2007-2008 rising to $100.6 million, a 46% increase over the previous year.
Australia's bilateral defense cooperation budget for 2005-06 was $3.526 million, with activities that include high-level policy talks, training of 80 defense personnel and exchange of visits of senior officials. The bilateral defense relationship also focuses on counter terrorism, maritime security and assistance to the Philippine Defense Reform Program.
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