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thedrifter
01-19-06, 08:56 AM
January 19, 2006
Manila Lawmakers Want to Scrap US Security Pact
By REUTERS

Filed at 6:32 a.m. ET

MANILA (Reuters) - A group of Philippine senators and congressmen proposed on Thursday to scrap a security pact with the United States that they say gives visiting U.S. servicemen undue protection when they commit crimes in the Philippines.

The move comes amid a tug-of-war between the two allies over the custody of four U.S. Marines accused of involvement in a rape of a 22-year-old Filipino woman in November.

Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, a close ally of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, said a joint Congressional panel agreed that Manila should terminate the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to force Washington to renegotiate the treaty.

Santiago, chairwoman of the upper house foreign relations panel, said lawmakers made the decision after Washington rejected a request by Manila to hand over the soldiers, saying the treaty allowed for U.S. custody until the case was concluded.

``The notice of termination shall be served so we can renegotiate for a new VFA where the issue of custody will no longer be a problem,'' said Santiago, an international law expert.

Despite weeks of small demonstrations, the rape case has not inflamed any serious anti-American sentiment among the public in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony and Washington's closest security ally in the region.

Santiago said the joint panel also agreed to adopt a proposal by Senator Juan Ponce Enrile to withhold Manila's funding for all military exercises with Washington until the trial of the U.S. Marines ends.

The terms of the current VFA came to light after the four U.S. soldiers faced trial by a Philippine court for the November 1 rape of a Filipino woman inside a van at the former U.S. navy base in Subic Bay, northwest of Manila.

A local judge handling the case in Olongapo City, just outside Subic Bay, was due to hear arguments on petitions by lawyers of the U.S. Marines to stop the trial by asking for a re-investigation of the case.

Renato Dilag, the judge, said he would resolve the petitions before setting the date for the arraignment of the soldiers even though Philippine authorities failed to serve the arrest warrants on the four U.S. Marines due to the U.S. refusal.

Ellie