Why the VFA Should be Abrogated
THE continuing saga of the US Embassy refusing to hand over the four American Marines indicted for allegedly raping a Filipino woman in Olongapo last December, means that the Philippines must abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement of 1992 and instead negotiate a Status of Forces Agreement similar to the ones that South Korea and Japan have with the United States.
Under the current VFA, the US can legally continue to keep the US Marines in their custody at the US Embassy as long as they keep making them available to Philippine courts upon demand. Philippine negotiators knew this when they drew the agreement up, and now when it is being put to the test with this case, is turning out to be unfavorable to the Philippines.
It is unfortunate, but also understandable, that the US government wants to shield its soldiers from being exposed to the deprivations of foreign jails. But if these four soldiers are found guilty at the end of the trial, the US should hand them over to Philippine authorities. This perhaps could act as a deterrent to other US soldiers thinking of committing sex crimes.
Studying in Nottingham
YOU may have wondered where I have gone off too due to the absence of my column. Well, I’m in Nottingham, England, and will continue to be for the next three months on a Chevening Fellowship to study the implementation of human rights conventions.
I had applied for it last May and had been told I would be a reserve candidate. I then promptly forgot all about it until this past Dec. 21 when I received an email from the University of Nottingham informing me that I had been accepted into the short course.
The Chevening Fellowship was set up by the British Foreign Office in an attempt to bring in mid-career professionals from around the world to attend short courses at various universities across the United Kingdom. Not only does it expose the participants to the latest ideas in their particular field of knowledge, but it also builds friendship and feelings of goodwill between the UK and international participants.
When I called the British Council in Riyadh to tell them of my acceptance, since they administer the fellowship for the FCO, I was bluntly told I couldn’t go because there was no more time left to process my papers due to the Christmas and New Year holidays. I was stunned and upset, as I really wanted to attend. Finally, the British Ambassador Sherard Cowper-Coles intervened on my behalf and voila I was in Nottingham. I am grateful for his crucial and kind support.
MY fellow participants are an extremely varied group from all over the globe: They include a Syrian investigative judge; a Malaysian Foreign Ministry official; a law professor from Iran, and a lawyer from the attorney general’s office in Ghana. I’m the lone representative from the media.
KEEPING up with the latest news is hard here because of all the reading we have to do plus the fact that we don’t have any televisions in our student accommodations. The basic TV channels are free in the UK, but each owner of a TV must pay an annual license fee to the government of over 100 pounds per TV set. It is this fee that funds the famed BBC. Naturally, the university doesn’t want to have to pay this fee for us when we will be here for only three months.
Nevertheless, I have been buying several British newspapers everyday to read, usually The Independent and The Guardian. The latest news that seems to be riling British readers the most has been the appearance of Respect MP George Galloway acting like a cat on a reality TV show, and the fact that the education secretary allowed alleged sex offenders to return to teaching.
I saw pictures of Galloway on all fours, “lapping” milk from the cupped hands of another participant in Celebrity Big Brother and was sickened to the extent of humiliation that he would subject himself for publicity. A newspaper columnist said that Galloway was upset that hardly any of the other participants knew who he was, let alone that he was a member of parliament.
More importantly, many of his constituents were appalled that he was wasting his time on such a show, instead of looking after their concerns. Some even suggested that his pay be docked for all the days he was on the show.