"This is a well-kept secret," Sen. Joker Arroyo told reporters late last week. Under the accord signed by then-U.S.-Ambassador to the Philippines Thomas C. Hubbard and then-Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr., which is now known as "VFA 2," a Filipino soldier who commits a crime in the United States, "shall be served in penal institutions in the United States suitable for the custody level of the prisoner."
"In short, confinement shall always be in a U.S. penal institution. The only consolation is that we may ask which prison," said Arroyo.
But the VFA, which was ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1998, mandates that an American military officer who commits a crime in the Philippines shall be detained at any American embassy or penal facility.
Earlier this month, a Philippine Supreme Court ruling ordered the Foreign Affairs department to negotiate Smith's transfer to a Philippine facility.
In a text message, U.S. Embassy spokesperson Rebecca Thompson said the matter had been referred to legal experts in Washington. The Philippine government, on the other hand, claims that its hands are tied. According to Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, the government cannot force the United States to hand Smith over to local authorities, as there is still a motion pending in the Court of Appeals.
As a result, anti-U.S. sentiment is growing. Street protests calling for the termination of the VFA are being held regularly. Lawmakers are calling on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to "revisit and accordingly terminate" the VFA.
Then the supposed "secret" agreement came to light.
A study by the National Union of People's Lawyers obtained by CBS News shows even more unbalance between rules governing visiting Philippine and U.S. military personnel.
American forces entering the Philippines are exempt from passport and visa regulations, but the U.S. Embassy, "reserves the right to deny visas" to Filipino personnel. Personal property of American soldiers is tax and duty-free for the entire period of their stay in the Philippines, while Filipino soldiers are exempted from paying taxes only during the first six months of their stay in the United States.
Thompson emphasized that the VFA is a public document. Philippine government officials likewise deny any secret agreement between the two governments.
"VFA 2 is not a secret document. It was in the joint committee report of the Senate committee of defense and foreign relations," Remonde said.
Senator Loren Legarda, who voted against the VFA but was part of the Senate that approved it, also said nothing was kept secret. But she believed then and now that it is disadvantageous to the Philippines, and for that reason needs to be reviewed.
American forces come to the Philippines annually for joint military exercises, and a number of them stay to train and provide technical assistance to Philippine troops fighting terrorists.
For now, Thompson said military-to-military activities are going to continue as planned, adding that, "our relations remain strong."