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US-RP VFA may be vehicle for dreaded A (H1N1) virus — Gabriela solon
In The Press Posted on May 28th, 2009.
QUEZON CITY — Assistant minority leader and Gabriela Women’s Party representative Liza Maza expressed alarm that US troops entering the Philippines would again use the US-RP Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) this time as a convenient excuse to be exempted from quarantine inspection despite the alert released by the World Health Organization (WHO) declaring that the A (H1N1) virus outbreak has escalated to a “public-health emergency of international concern”.
The Gabriela Solon cited Art.III of the US-RP VFA that states that “the commanding officer of a military aircraft or vessel shall present a declaration of health, and when required by the cognizant representative of the GRP, shall conduct a quarantine inspection and will certify that the aircraft or vessel is free from quarantinable diseases. Any quarantined inspection of the US aircraft or vessel or cargoes thereon shall be conducted by the US commanding officer in accordance with the international health regulations as promulgated by the WHO and mutually agreed procedures.”
“This provision of the VFA puts to risk the health and safety of our people given that the prerogative to declare their troops and their vessels safe and secure is all up to the commanding officers of a US military aircraft or vessel. This not only undermines our own procedures and rules; worst, it endangers every Filipino,” Maza said.
Reports have it that US aircrafts coming directly from the United States do not pass through the usual customs, immigration, quarantine and security protocol. They are also not obliged to divulge the details of their flights, cargoes and the number of personnel they carry.
“This is painfully ironic knowing how our local authorities have stepped up surveillance and biosecurity measures in all international and local airports to prevent the entry of the virus while US troops come in all their unbridled freedom not knowing the danger they could bring in,” Maza said.
WHO declared in its latest advisory that the United States has reported 286 laboratory confirmed human cases, including one death.
“This is very distressing especially at these times when public health and safety is vulnerable because of the A (H1N1) outbreak. There’s no room for negligence and tolerance when it comes to the protection of our people. As the WHO describes it, this is a matter of public-health emergency of international concern and our government as a member-state should adhere to the strictest measures to prevent the entry of the virus. And definitely, this should exempt no one even US soldiers coming in,” Maza exclaimed.
Maza further stressed the immediate need to abrogate the US-RP VFA as even the process for health inspection is very much skewed in favor of the US and undermines our processes as it does to our justice system.