Press Release
July 24, 2012

SOVFA approved on third reading

With 17 affirmative votes, 1 negative vote and zero abstentions, the Senate today approved on third and final reading Senate Resolution No. 788, concurring with the ratification of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the governments of the Philippines and Australia.

"Concurrence with the ratification of the SOVFA will not only pave the way for us to improve our defense mechanisms, it will also solidify our decades old relationship with Australia, especially in the fields of trade and industry," Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said.

Before Congress adjourned for a month-long break last June, the Senate approved on second reading the resolution concurring with Aquino's ratification of the Philippines- Australia Status of Visiting Forces Agreement (SOVFA), which 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, ensuring that environmental laws and ordinances of the country will not be violated.

The Agreement, which provides for enhanced bilateral defense and military cooperation between the Philippines and Australia, was anchored on the 1995 Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperative Defense Activities with Australia. The Agreement prohibits the conduct of exercises or other activities in protected areas, ancestral domain areas, critical watersheds and protected forest areas, and also provides that any environmental damage caused by the sending state will be subjected to claims and compensation.

A salient point in the Agreement calls for Australia to cooperate with the Philippine government to prevent any abuse or misuse of the privileges granted in favor of Australia's Visiting Forces. It further states that the "authorities of the receiving state have jurisdiction over visiting forces with respect to offences committed within the receiving state and punishable by the law of the receiving state, but not by the law of the sending state."

This provision was included to avoid a repeat of the case of US Corporal Daniel Smith, who was accused of raping a Filipina in 2005. Smith was acquitted after the Court of Appeals reversed the decision of the lower court and ordered his immediate release from prison.

Since 2001, Australia has been conducting counter-terrorism trainings and providing mutual training assistance to the government to help develop inter-operability capabilities between the special operations units of the armies and navies of the Philippines and Australia. (Yvonne Almiranez, PRIB)

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