By Ellen Tordesillas
The lawyers of Glenn Defense Marine Asia better look for a justification much more astounding than the Visiting Forces Agreement for the dumping of toxic waste in Philippine waters by their client, Malaysian firm Glenn Defense Marine Asia.
Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chair of the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and acknowledged expert on international law, and Loren Legarda, chair of the Committee on Foreign Relations and co-chair of the Legislative Oversight Committee on the VFA, are calling for an investigation of the dumping in Subic Bay of Glenn Defense of toxic wastes from a US navy ship, Emory Land last month.
It has been reported that Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority Chair Roberto Garcia is investigating the incident and is asking Glenn Defense side on the illegal act.
Inquirer reported that Glenn Defense lawyers Kristoffer James Purisima and Bernard Joseph Malibiran of Villaraza Cruz Marcelo law firm invoked the VFA, not SBMA, as the body that has jurisdiction over their client. They did not deny the accusation of their client's dumping of toxic wastes in Philippine waters.
"At the outset, it should be pointed out that our client provides marine husbandry and logistics support services (support vessels) solely and exclusively to US Navy vessels visiting the Philippines pursuant to the provisions of the VFA between the Republic of the Philippines and the United States," the lawyers said.
They further said:" It is clear that vessels operating by or for the United States armed forces — such as the support vessels of our client — may enter the Philippines upon the approval of the government if the Philippines and the movement thereof shall be the subject to mutually acceptable implementing agreements."
Purisima and Malibiran must have been scraping the bottom of the barrel to have forwarded that defense of their clients' condemnable act.
The VFA, signed on Feb. 10, 1998 by Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon and US Ambassador Thomas Hubbard, took effect upon the ratification by the Senate on May 27, 1998.
A primer on the VFA by the US Embassy states: "The VFA is essentially about the treatment of U.S. armed forces and defense personnel who would be visiting the Philippines take part in activities covered by the 1951 Mutual defense Treaty and approved by the Philippine Government.
"The Agreement gives substance to the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty by serving as legal framework in promoting defense cooperation between the Philippines and the United States."
The VFA was needed because after the Senate rejected an extension of the 1947 Military Bases Agreement in 1991, there was no legal coverage of U.S. personnel who would be coming to the Philippines for joint military exercises or other missions. Until the VFA took effect in May 1999, "Balikatan", the joint PH-US military exercises were suspended.
The most sensitive issue was criminal jurisdiction. Like, who would have jurisdiction when military personnel violates Philippine laws while in the Philippines during an official mission?
Article II of the VFA is titled "Respect for Law."
It says: "It is the duty of the United States personnel to respect the laws of the Republic of the Philippines and to abstain from any activity inconsistent with the spirit of this agreement, and, in particular, from any political activity in the Philippines. The Government of the United States shall take all measures within its authority to ensure that this is done."
R.A. No. 6969, or the Toxic Substances and Hazardous and Nuclear Wastes Control Act, prohibits "the storage, importation, or bringing into Philippines territory, including its maritime economic zones, even in transit, either by means of land, air or sea transportation or otherwise keeping in storage any amount of hazardous and nuclear wastes in any part of the Philippines.
Santiago said Glenn Defense's dumping of toxic wastes in Philippines waters is in violation of not just Philippine laws but also international agreements.
Santiago said Glenn Defense's dumping of toxic wastes in Philippines waters is in violation of not just Philippine laws but also international agreements. She cited the Convention for the Prevention of Pollution from Ships of 1978 (MARPOL).
"As a treaty, MARPOL is of universal application and enforcement. It must be stressed that the customary norms it embodies are generally accepted principles of international law, which our Constitution proclaims as part of the law of the land," she said.
Statement of Greenpeace Oceans Campaigner Vince Cinches:
"This deliberate dumping of toxic substances is an additional assault to the already sorry situation of our marine ecosystem and may further affect the lives of people dependent on our seas."
"It is also a complete disregard of existing international marine conservation treaties to which the Philippines is a signatory, specifically the Convention on the Prevention of Marine Pollution by Dumping of Wastes and Other Matter 1972, also known as the London Convention."
"Unfortunately, this is another example of how the lax implementation of environmental laws is destroying our natural resources. A thorough investigation is necessary to find out who is accountable for this environmental crime."
"Ocean pollution cannot be contained. Subic and Zambales are known coastal tourist centers and fishing grounds. Protecting the waters here from toxic pollution means safeguarding the livelihood and health of the people in these coastal communities."
"Greenpeace urges the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority to disclose the full results of the tests it conducted and is calling on the government to hold accountable those responsible for this violation."
Greenpeace is an independent global campaigning organisation that acts to change attitudes and behaviour, to protect and conserve the environment, and to promote peace.