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Philippine Senate approves VFA on second reading.

MANILA, May 25 Kyodo

The Philippine Senate late Tuesday passed on second reading a resolution endorsing an agreement between Manila and Washington on the status of American troops visiting the Philippines, taking the resolution one step closer to formal approval. The resolution, concurring with the ratification of a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between both countries, was approved on a second reading by a simple majority. A final vote is expected Thursday, during which at least 16 votes, or a two-thirds majority, of the 23-member Senate is needed for the resolution to be formally approved. The resolution carried several amendments, including calls for protection of the environment and for the U.S. to make available military hardware provided to other countries with which it has similar agreements. These amendments, however, have no bearing on the VFA itself. Senators opposed to the VFA tried to propose amendments to the text of the agreement, but these were all rejected, with most senators upholding the principle that the Senate only has the power to concur with or reject an international treaty negotiated by the executive branch. Senate President Marcelo Fernan expressed optimism the resolution would be approved on final reading. "I think the majority of senators know the agreement will best serve the national interest and security," he told reporters. "I feel there is no doubt on the outcome of the vote. I still believe that we have at least two-thirds (in favor)," said Fernan, adding he expects 19 of the 23 senators to approve the agreement. Deliberations on the resolution have been accompanied by protests from anti-VFA activists, who say the accord means the Philippines will surrender its sovereignty and that visits by possibly nuclear-armed U.S. vessels will violate the constitutional ban on nuclear weapons in the country. Senate approval of the pact, signed last year by the two governments, will pave the way for the resumption of large-scale joint military exercises between the two countries under the Mutual Defense Treaty. The U.S. halted major military exercises and ship visits in December 1996 after Manila removed a legal loophole that shielded U.S. troops from prosecution by the Philippines for crimes committed in the country. The Philippine Senate in 1991 rejected an agreement that would have extended the stay of U.S. facilities in the country, prompting the closure of the last U.S. base in the Philippines in November 1992.
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Publication:Asian Political News
Date:May 31, 1999
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