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Palace seeks review of VFA

Aquino wants no repeat of Daniel Smith custody row

By TJ Burgonio, Norman Bordadora
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 05:33:00 10/27/2010

Filed Under: Justice & Rights, Benigno Aquino III, Foreign affairs & international relations, Military, Crime and Law and Justice, Investments

MANILA, Philippines?The Aquino administration is reexamining the custody provisions of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), saying it does not want to see a repeat of the case of a US Marine confined inside the United States Embassy even after a Philippine court had convicted him of raping a Filipino woman.

The provisions on custody are some of the points that the review panel is looking at for improvements, said Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa.

Ochoa earlier said the government wants some ?refinements? in the VFA so the country can get the maximum benefits from the treaty which governs the treatment of US forces participating in joint military exercises here.

Bone of contention

?One of the main bones of contention and opposition is the custody of soldiers who might violate our criminal laws especially when it?s a nonbailable offense,? Ochoa told reporters Tuesday.

He recalled the recent case of US Lance Corporal Daniel Smith who was found guilty of raping a Filipino woman in the Subic Bay Freeport in November 2005.

The Makati court convicted Smith in December 2006. In a matter of days, he was transferred to the US Embassy from the Makati jail.

The transfer was supposedly in keeping with a VFA provision that the country of the accused was allowed to have custody of the prisoner until all judicial processes, including the appeal, have been exhausted.

?We don?t want that happening again. We want to review it again so that, at least, we can handle it better,? Ochoa said.

Smith?s detention at the US embassy became the rallying issue of critics of the VFA.

Acquitted

The Supreme Court later ruled that Smith should be detained in a facility run by Filipinos but one agreed upon by both the Philippine and US governments.

In April 2009, the Court of Appeals reversed the Makati court?s decision convicting Smith, and ordered his release.

The rape victim also placed her allegations in doubt when she submitted a manifestation to the appellate court before the latter handed down the acquittal.

On October 1, President Aquino issued Executive Order No. 9 reorganizing the VFA Commission that was created in 2000 under the Office of the President.

He appointed the Executive Secretary and Secretary of National Defense as co-chairs of the commission.

The other members of the commission are the secretaries of justice and social welfare and development, the commission?s executive director and a private sector representative appointed by the President.

The VFA, which was ratified in 1999, serves as the framework for the treatment of visiting US forces in the Philippines.

It also provides for the manner in which criminal cases are handled against any member of the US military as well as a procedure for resolving differences that may arise between the two sides in this regard.

Aquino?s bias

Gabriela party-list member Luzviminda Ilagan on Tuesday said Mr. Aquino?s order to review the VFA betrayed his bias for its retention and his ties with the United States.

?If he?s going to review and introduce refinements, he?s in favor of retaining the VFA. He did not say he?s reviewing it toward abrogating it,?? she said in a phone interview.

Ilagan, whose Gabriela party-list group supported the victim in the Smith case, said it was no surprise that Mr. Aquino would consider the US as he has accepted some aid from the US.

?When aid is given, there are strings attached,?? Gabriela said.

During his first state visit to the US last September, Mr. Aquino returned with some $2.8 billion in investments, including a $434-million grant from the state-run Millennium Challenge Corp.



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