It surprises us that the Department of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, in a television interview, stated that the Philippine government has to write within 20 days to US authorities to communicate determination of the case to be of particular importance to the Philippines. Let it be known that the Philippine government has the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over the case. So, why the need to negotiate jurisdiction? We are afraid that the US has asked our government to waive this right, because as per Art.V, 3 (d) of the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Philippine government will do such communication ‘after the Philippine authorities receive the US request.’ IF there is no US request, of course, the Philippine authorities shall exercise the primary right to jurisdiction, even as the media reports now that investigation and prosecution is ongoing. (Efficiency and intelligence — or the lack of it — in evidence-gathering and using Philippine laws is also an issue.)
If the jurisdiction is ours, why is the US keeping custody of its erring personnel? The issue of custody should follow jurisdiction. Art.V, 6 states that where the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction, the custody will reside with the US if they so request. Contrary to Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s opinion that the US personnel should rightfully stay with the US embassy, custody should automatically be ours, “from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”
Filipino sisters and brothers are as indignant as we were when a Filipino brother was threatened of execution in Iraq. We are enraged as this terrible violation of human rights, this rape, is a direct consequence of Philippine foreign policy succumbing to the US and its ‘war on terror’. The Filipina is like anyone of us. We are the ones hit by this war.
The direct perpetrators should be taken custody of and tried immediately. But the government should similarly be made accountable for laying the ground for this abuse, by signing the agreement. Moreover, the Arroyo government should be called to task for allowing the US to take custody over the US personnel, without baring to the public any US request or negotiation.
Abrogate the VFA in no time at all.