Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement

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Philippines – United States Visiting Forces Agreement relations
Map indicating locations of Philippines and USA


United States

The Philippines–United States Visiting Forces Agreement, sometimes the PH–US Visiting Forces Agreement, is a bilateral visiting forces agreement between the Philippines and the United States consisting of two separate documents. The first of these documents is commonly referred to as "the VFA" or "VFA-1",[1] and the second as "VFA-2" or "the Counterpart Agreement".[2] A visiting forces agreement is a version of a status of forces agreement that only applies to troops temporarily in a country.

The agreements came into force on May 27, 1999, upon ratification by the Senate of the Philippines. [3][8], [10] The United States government regards these documents to be executive agreements not requiring approval by the United States Senate. [3][42]


The primary effect of the Agreement is that it allows the U.S. government to retain jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines, unless the crimes are of "particular" importance to the Philippines. This means that for crimes without this significance, the U.S. can refuse to detain or arrest accused personnel, or may instead prosecute them under U.S. jurisdiction. The Agreement also exempts U.S. military personnel from visa and passport regulations in the Philippines.

The Agreement contains various procedural safeguards which amongst other things establish the right to due process and proscribe double jeopardy. The Agreement also prevents U.S. military personnel from being tried in Filipino religious or military courts[1][V 11]; requires both governments to waive any claims concerning loss of materials (though it does require that the U.S. honor contractual arrangements and comply with U.S. law regarding payment of just and reasonable compensation in settlement of meritorious claims for damage, loss, personal injury or death, caused by acts or omissions of United States personnel)[1][VI]; exempts material exported and imported by the military from duties or taxes [1][VII]; and allows unrestricted movement of U.S. vessels and aircraft in the Philippines [1][VIII].


The U.S. has at least twice used the Agreement to keep accused military personnel under U.S. jurisdiction.[4] [5] The most recent example was on January 18, 2006, when the U.S. refused to hand over custody of four troops accused of rape while visiting Subic Bay while they were tried by a Filipino court.[5] Instead they were in custody of American officials at the United States embassy in Manila. This led to protests by those who believe that the agreement is one-sided, prejudicial to Filipinos, and contrary to the sovereignty of the Philippines.[citation needed] The agreement is seen by some Filipinos as granting immunity from prosecution to U.S. military personnel who commit crimes against Filipinos, and is seen by some as treating Filipinos as second class citizens in their own country.[citation needed] As a result of these issues, in 2006 the Philippine government considered terminating the VFA.[6] [7]

A Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement (LOVFA), formed in 2004 and chaired by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, was reconvened in 2009 to review the pact to set clearer guidelines on how US soldiers accused of crimes should be treated.[8] By November 2009, the Committee had gathered testimony from different sectors as a prelude to the series of public hearings aimed at formulating a report to Congress on the implementation of the VFA. Senator Santiago said, "Some of the issues raised include the guidelines on the custody of US military personnel who commit an actionable offense in the Philippines, and the silence of the VFA both on how long the ‘visiting’ forces may stay in our country and what activities they may do while they are here,". Senator Loren Legarda said, "Eleven years after 1999 when a divided Senate concurred in the ratification of this agreement, there is now a clamor from members of Congress, non-government organizations, and even the executive to review or even terminate the same. This review of the VFA is in order,".[9] The agreement was not changed.


The constitutionality of the VFA was challenged in Bayan v. Zamora, which the Supreme Court of the Philippines, sitting En banc, dismissed on October 10, 2000.[10] A second challenge, Suzette Nicolas y Sombilon Vs. Alberto Romulo, et al. / Jovito R. Salonga, et al. Vs. Daniel Smith, et al. / Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, et al. Vs. President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, et al. submitted on January 2, 2007, was decided on February 11, 2009, again by the Supreme Court sitting En banc. In deciding this second challenge, the court voted 9-4 with two justices inhibiting in support of a decision that, "The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States, entered into on February 10, 1998, is UPHELD as constitutional, ...". The decision continued, specifically relating to matters relevant to the Subic rape case, "... the Romulo-Kenney Agreements of December 19 and 22, 2006 are DECLARED not in accordance with the VFA, and respondent Secretary of Foreign Affairs is hereby ordered to forthwith negotiate with the United States representatives for the appropriate agreement on detention facilities under Philippine authorities as provided in Art. V, Sec. 10 of the VFA, pending which the status quo shall be maintained until further orders by this Court."[11] UP Professor Harry Roque, counsel for former senator Jovito Salonga, one of the petitioners in the case, said in a phone interview regarding the decision on the constitunality of the VFA. "We will appeal, ... We are hoping we could convince the other justices to join the four dissenters."[12]


The primary effect of the Agreement is to require the U.S. government (1) to notify PH authorities when it becomes aware of the apprehension, arrest or detention of any PH personnel visiting the U.S. and (2) when so requested by the PH government, to ask the appropriate authorities to waive jurisdiction in favor of PH, except cases of special interest to the U.S. departments of State or Defense. [2][VIII 1] (Waiving of jurisdiction in the U.S. is complicated by United States being a federation of individual U.S. states, in which each individual state has its own judicial system and with the U.S. Federal Government not being in a position to simply order a State to waive jurisdiction).

The Agreement contains various procedural safeguards which amongst other things establish the right to due process and proscribe double jeopardy[2][VIII 2-6]. The agreement also, among other provisions, exempts PH personnel from visa formalities and guarantees expedited entry and exit processing[2][IV]; requires the U.S. to accept PH driving licenses[2][V]; allows PH personnel to carry arms at U.S. military installations while on duty[2][VI]; provides personal tax exemptions and import/export duty exclusions for PH personnel[2][X, XI]; requires the U.S. to provide health care to PH personnel[2][XIV]; and exempts PH vehicles, vessels, and aircraft from landing or ports fees, navigation or overflight charges, road tolls or any other charges for the use of U.S. military installations[2][XV].

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e "Agreement Regarding the Treatment of US Armed Forces Visiting the Philippines". ChanRobles Law Library. Retrieved 2009-03-22. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "Agreement Regarding the Treatment of RP Personnel Visiting the USA". ChanRobles Law Library. Retrieved 2006-09-16. 
  3. ^ a b "G.R. No. 138570. October 10, 2000". Supreme Court of the Philippines. Retrieved 2009-10-06. 
  4. ^ "Filipino taxi driver drops charges against U.S. servicemen". Asian Economic News. 2000. Retrieved 2006-09-18. 
  5. ^ a b "Philippine prosecutors file rape charges against 4 U.S. Marines". Asian Economic News. 2005-12-27. Retrieved 2006-09-17. [dead link]
  6. ^ Philip C. Tubeza; Michael Lim Ubac (2006-01-19). "Angry lawmakers in Senate, House move to terminate VFAvisiting forces agree,ent". Philippine Daily Inquirer. Retrieved 2010-07-21. 
  8. ^ "Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago: Visiting Forces Agreement up for review". April 27, 2009. 
  9. ^ Christina Mendez (November 20, 2010). "Senate VFA panel set to convene". The Philippine Star. 
  10. ^ G.R. No. 138570, October 10, 2000, 342 SCRA 449, retrieved 2009-02-11 .
  11. ^ G.R. No. 175888, February 10, 1998 .
  12. ^ Edu Punay (February 12, 2009), "SC orders transfer of US Marine rapist to RP jail", Philippine Star, retrieved 2009-02-11 

Further reading[edit]

  • Dieter Fleck, ed. (2003-09-18). The Handbook of The Law of Visiting Forces. United Kingdom: Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-826894-9. 

External links[edit]