LAST February 9, the day after his arrival from Washington, D.C., Foreign Secretary Alberto G. Romulo visited me. He lamented that media had ignored the real purpose of President Macapagal-Arroyo’s recent side trip to the United States. Recall that from the Davos World Forum in Switzerland (and a few other cities), GMA flew to America, instead of returning home as originally planned. He rued that media unfairly pilloried GMA’s alleged “shameless stalking” of US President Barack Obama.
Main purpose of US trip. Romulo explained that, at the recommendation of our Ambassador to the United States, Willy C. Gaa, he prodded GMA to go to Washington because the US Congress was then hurriedly debating the gargantuan economic stimulus package proposed by President Obama. He advised her to meet with US congressional leaders to make sure that the long-delayed compensation for the Filipino veterans of World War II is included in the stimulus bill.
Thus, according to the genteel foreign secretary, GMA met with Senators Daniel Inouye, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee; Daniel Akaka, chair of the Veterans Affairs Committee; John Kerry, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee; and Jim Webb, chair of the Sub-Committee on East Asia and Pacific Affairs, who all “promised to help her fulfill her mission.”
In the US House of Representatives, she spoke with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Steve Austria (the first first-generation Filipino-American member of the US lower house) who both “assured her of their full support.”
She also conferred with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, whose photo-op with her was carried extensively in TV and newspaper reports. The attendance of GMA at the National Prayer Breakfast—though given much publicity—was only an incident, not the main agenda, of her US trip, so Secretary Romulo said.
Congratulations but more work needed. I must admit that, given the wide publicity of her alleged dogging of Obama, I was not too persuaded—at that time—that the veterans’ cause propelled GMA’s recent visit to America. But this week’s headline stories announcing the allotment of $198 million (out of the $787-billion stimulus package) to compensate some 18,000 Filipino World War II veterans, convinced me that GMA’s US trip was well-worth the effort.
Perhaps, the residual public distrust of GMA’s administration as shown by repeated poll surveys and the inadequate reporting of her US visit contributed to the skepticism of her US agenda. But the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Her mission was accomplished. The six decades of effort to correct an injustice to our war heroes finally succeeded.
To quote Sen. Joker Arroyo, the amounts awarded are “too little and too late.” But I think they are still welcome. I just hope that, as urged by the Inquirer’s editorial last Tuesday, GMA will continue to lobby for a much bigger award. In the meantime, let me give credit to whom credit is due: Well-done, Madam President! Congratulations, Secretary Romulo and Ambassador Gaa!
I also join the Inquirer editorial the other day saluting US Senator Inouye for his steadfast support.
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Legal and diplomatic solutions to VFA. On May 17, 2006, during my term as chief justice, I visited—accompanied by our then Ambassador to the US Albert del Rosario—some US Supreme Court justices in Washington, D.C. to invite them to participate in the Global Forum on Liberty and Prosperity that our high court was sponsoring later that year.
Declining my invitation, US Justice Antonin Scalia—the leader of the conservatives who often dominate the US Supreme Court—explained,
“… I am useless in international meetings because I believe that our Supreme Court is tasked to enforce only the US Constitution and US laws, not cross-border concepts that do not find implementing US statutes.”
This is why I was not surprised by the US Court’s ruling in Medellin vs Texas (Mar. 25, 2008) that a treaty—even if ratified by the US Senate—will not be enforced in the United States, unless (1) “by its terms,” it is self-executory, or (2) it is implemented by an act of the US Congress.
In a commentary published in the Inquirer’s front page last Feb. 14, I opined that, based on this ruling, the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is not enforceable in the United States because (1) the US Senate had not ratified it; (2) nothing in the VFA says it is “self-executory,” and (3) no US law implements it.
Per Ambassador Kristie Kenney, the VFA has “the force of a treaty,” but sadly, per the US Supreme Court, the treaty does not have the force of a US domestic law. For this and the other reasons detailed in that commentary, the VFA violates our Constitution and is also unenforceable here. Hence, our government should initiate moves to abrogate it, or at the very least to renegotiate its objectionable features, as urged by many senators.
But to solve the diplomatic standoff now plaguing Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith’s custody, our courts should decide the appeal of his conviction as soon as possible. In this manner, Smith would either be unquestionably jailed in the Philippines if convicted, or freed if acquitted. This is a diplomatic solution without loss of face for the both the Philippine and US governments.
A diplomatic remedy suggested by the US Supreme Court itself is for the US Congress to pass an omnibus law implementing treaties entered into by the United States, including—if I may humbly suggest—the RP-US Mutual Defense Treaty and the revised VFA.
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Comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org
Joker says pact favors erring US soldier
MANILA, Philippines—Sen. Joker Arroyo has produced a secret document that proves the one-sided nature of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States in the treatment of erring personnel.
“This is a well-kept secret,” Arroyo yesterday said of the “complemental agreement” that he described as “part and parcel of the VFA” and constituted its implementing rules and regulations.
The 14-page document was signed by then US Ambassador to the Philippines Thomas C. Hubbard and then Foreign Secretary Domingo Siazon Jr. on Oct. 9, 1998.
According to Arroyo, the VFA mandates that an American soldier who commits a crime in the Philippines will be detained at any US embassy or penal facility. But under the secret agreement, a Filipino soldier who commits a crime in the United States cannot be housed in a Philippine embassy or consulate but “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 US penal institution. The only consuelo de bobo (consolation) is that we may ask which prison [the Filipino soldier] may be confined,” Arroyo told reporters in a phone-patch interview.
Ratified by the Philippine Senate in 1999, the VFA governs the conduct of US troops engaged in military exercises in the country.
Calls for its review and outright scrapping have lately been aired, triggered by the continued detention at the US Embassy of Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, who was convicted in 2006 of raping Filipino woman “Nicole.”
Arroyo provided Senate reporters copies of the accord titled “Agreement between the Government of the United States of America and Government of the Republic of the Philippines regarding the Treatment of Republic of the Philippines Personnel Visiting the United States of America.”
“We never had a solid argument why the VFA is unequal, with no reciprocity and no mutuality, until now,” Arroyo said, adding that the document was provided by “a learned jurist.”
Its preamble states that the two governments agreed to the accord “for the purpose of complementing the Agreement between the United States of America and the Republic of the Philippines regarding the treatment of United States Armed Forces visiting the Philippines.”
Arroyo said the matter should not be elevated to the Supreme Court but should be resolved within the Philippine government’s political department because the foreign secretary “speaks for the President.”
Siazon is now the Philippine ambassador to Japan.
Asked to comment, Bayani Mangibin, spokesperson of the Department of Foreign Affairs, said he would look into the agreement, if indeed there was one, and seek a clarification from Siazon.
“The terms on confinement are so glaringly iniquitous, and that Philippine authorities ever agreed to this reflects our residual colonial mentality,” Arroyo said.
He said that with Manila’s consent, erring Filipino troops could even be held at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, which is operated by the US government as a detention camp for terrorists.
Arroyo said this anomaly in RP-US relations should be resolved in favor of Filipinos.
“It is time President Arroyo and the legislature joined hands in a nonpartisan manner to eliminate this iniquitous and one-sided arrangement, which has bedeviled us for the past 63 years, from 1946 to 2009,” the senator said.
“After all, it was neither President Arroyo nor the present Senate that entered into the VFA in 1999,” he said.
Arroyo observed that certain parties had warned against “rocking the boat.”
He lamented: “We need the US, they say. The pity of it all is that because of the century of dependence on the United States, we have not learned how to walk. It’s time we got up unaided. And if we fall, as we start to walk, then we stand up on our own as healthy babies do.”
Not just making noise
Arroyo said that in seeking the scrapping of the VFA, the focus should be on “confinement and jurisdiction.”
To the reminder that the Philippine Senate had ratified the agreement, he said: “Of course, past is past. But what is the alternative? Let’s just allow this to go on, forget this?
“We’re being beaten black and blue, and yet we’re still smiling.”
Arroyo said working for the scrapping of the VFA was not merely a matter of “making noise” but a matter of “justice and official responsibility.”
Opinion/Letters to the Editor
A number of media commentators went to town criticizing President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo for making a “useless trip” to the United States after the Davos Conference in Switzerland, as she didn’t get to meet President Obama, contrary to speculations. If there was a big letdown here about that non-meeting, it was the fault of Ms Arroyo’s staff, for the US trip was made to center on the supposed meeting, so that when it failed to materialize, due perhaps to Obama’s being so preoccupied with the economic stimulus package that was then still in limbo in the US Congress, the trip did seem useless. But it turns out that there were, to borrow a phrase from Dr. Anding Roces, a number of things to crow about. For instance, the media only later learned that President Arroyo played an important role in securing the long-awaited benefits due to Filipino World War II veterans.
Palace sources said Ms Arroyo, who was then attending the Davos Conference, was invited by the US Congress to the National Prayer Breakfast annually held in Washington DC. She was assigned a seat beside Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who later arranged for her to meet with key legislators on Capitol Hill, among them Sen. John Kerry, chair of the US Senate foreign relations committee, and the chair of that committee’s East Asia subcommittee, Sen. James Webb, and Ohio Rep. Steve Austria, the first Filipino-American to win a legislative seat on Capitol Hill. Palace sources said Ms Arroyo took advantage of her meetings with key legislators for one specific agenda: to push for the inclusion of the veterans’ benefits in the economic stimulus package recently passed by the US Congress.
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In fact, on the day of President Arroyo’s visit, Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a staunch advocate of Filipino war veterans, stood up on the Senate floor to sponsor an amendment to the economic stimulus package bill that would grant Filipino veterans befits totaling $198 million. Some of Inouye’s colleagues tried to block the amendment, preferring to corner the sums for their own needy constituents, but the crusty, old, physically challenged Hawaii lawmaker, a distinguished war veteran himself, stood his ground.
Over the years, Inouye has developed a solid friendship with Filipino leaders, with Ms Arroyo hosting various receptions in Malacañang during his visits. At the 100th anniversary celebration in Honolulu in 2006 of the arrival of Filipino plantation workers in Hawaii, Ms Arroyo and Inouye once again renewed their friendship.
On Capitol Hill, Ms Arroyo lobbied hard for inclusion of the benefits to Filipino war veterans in the Obama stimulus package, and found a dependable ally in Inouye.
The amendment paved the way for the realization of the dream harbored by Filipino veterans (their ranks now decimated by death, age and disease) for more than half a century: to be compensated for their heroism during the days of their youth. The benefits that will accrue to Filipino veterans will not only be in recognition of the sacrifices of those still living, albeit sickly and old but also in honor of the memory of their fallen comrades who never tasted the glory of recognition or the well-deserved material compensation.
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In another part of the US at that time, former House speaker Jose de Venecia addressed the Heritage Foundation in Washington DC, and the Universal Peace Federation, proposing in well-received speeches that President Obama recognize a “Global Inter-Faith Summit” in the US, inasmuch as all the great religions of the world — Christianity, Catholicism, Protestantism, the Evangelicals, Islam (Sunnis and Shiites), Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Confucianism, Shintoism and Sikkhism — are represented in that nation in great numbers. They could, De Venecia argued, help bring about global and regional peace, isolate extremists and strengthen moderates, “and regain the high moral ground for America.”
It will be recalled that De Venecia successfully pushed the Inter-Religious Dialogues in 2006, first with President George W. Bush and then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, which was later affirmed by the United Nations in a resolution. By a twist of events, he found his advocacy being tested soon. Late last year, the former speaker was in Cambodia to receive an honorary doctorate degree for international relations from the University of Cambodia, when a pocket border war exploded between Thai and Cambodian troops over a historic Buddhist temple in an area being claimed by both countries.
Speaking with Cambodian Premier Hun Sen and his deputy, Soc An, De Venecia pointed out that the border dispute was a “Buddhist problem” that could be quietly solved not by governments but by representatives of the Thai and Cambodian kings, who are both Buddhists and much-loved by their peoples, and the disputed ancient place of worship has been a Buddhist temple through the centuries. Hun Sen and Soc An said there was no need for Asean intervention, as some worried neighbors in the region had proposed, and the conflict quietly subsided. This little episode didn’t make headlines, but it demonstrates that there’s no substitute for meaningful diplomacy.
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My brother Danny Olivares received a request from his Ateneo de Manila University classmate, Noel Trinidad, to help disseminate to the legion of friends of his brother, internationally renowned cartoonist Corky Trinidad, that the latter recently passed away after a lingering illness in Honolulu, Hawaii, where he had been a longtime resident. Noel said Corky had lived a “very full and meaningful 69 years on earth” adding, “We are proud of his achievements but even prouder of how he lived his life.”
Corky was the son of Lina Flor, famed columnist and creator of the highly popular “Gulong ng Palad” drama series, and Koko Trinidad, acknowledged as the father of radio broadcasting in the Philippines. The Honolulu Star Bulletin, where Corky did editorial cartooning, paid a glowing tribute to him, which I will reprint here. Our condolences to the Trinidad family.
THE benefits package approved by the United States Congress for the thousands of Filipino World War II veterans is an important victory. For many of the old men who’ve endured years of isolation in America in order to support their loved ones in the Philippines, the money would surely be a big boost in difficult times.
But there are those who see the approved bill as a sad, tragic compromise.
One of them is photographer Rick Rocamora who has spent nearly 20 years documenting the lives and struggles of the beteranos.
“As a photographer who has captured moments in the lives of the veterans during their early days in America, the funeral services of their passing and life in between, I also look forward to the day that our heroes will be given the full recognition as equal to US veterans,” he told me in an e-mail.
“While the monetary compensation will find its way to help the surviving beteranos and their relatives, being recognized as equals is more important,” he added. “For those who died waiting, I have been waiting for them. But we must not forget that it took many years for the US Congress to recognized and correct the injustice. We must credit the collective efforts of the Filipino community in America and their supporters to finally gain justice for our heroes.”
To the elderly Pinoys often seen hanging out on Powell Street near the Cable Car stop in downtown San Francisco, Rick “Totoy” Rocamora has been a friend and ally who helped preserve the memory of their gallant, but sad mission in America.
They’ve known him as the soft-spoken heavyset man with a mop top hairdo, who seemed always to have a fancy-looking camera around his neck. Totoy told in moving, vivid pictures the journey of the thousands of Filipino World War II veterans who arrived in the United States in the 1990s.
His work has been published in many magazines and newspaper articles, and put on exhibit throughout the world. Now, Rocamora’s impressive body of work has been collected in a newly-published book of photographs, “America’s Second-Class Veterans.”
Rocamora’s photographs helped spread the word on what has become a sad chapter in the history of US-Philippine relations. The Filipino veterans began arriving in the United States in the early 1990s after they were finally granted citizenship for fighting alongside American troops in the war against the Japanese forces in World War II. But many of the elderly men found themselves in a bind. While they fought bravely under US command during the war, they did not receive the same rights and benefits enjoyed by other American military veterans.
The beteranos came to America hoping to send money back to their families in the Philippines or to enable their loved ones to immigrate to the United States. But most of them were old and ailing. Some became vulnerable to abuse, falling victim to swindlers. Many of them lived in cramped and damp rooms in San Francisco’s Tenderloin District.
Rocamora began documenting their struggles almost as soon as the first veterans began to arrive. His work helped mobilize the Filipino American community in advocating for the elderly Pinoys. A few times, when one of his beterano friends became ill, Totoy brought him sinigang and kept him company.
Totoy’s photographs also helped inspire me to write my novel Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street (Guerrillas on Powell Street) which was adapted for the stage by the Cultural Center of the Philippines’ Tanghalang Pilipino. His pictures also inspired prominent figures to support the fight for equity rights. One of them is Congressman Bob Filner, who has been the leading proponent for equity rights in Washington DC, and who wrote an introduction to the book.
“The photographs in Rocamora’s book and the words of the veterans next to the photos will not only bring tears to your eyes but also a firm resolve in your heart,” Filner writes. “Congress has officially granted the recognition as Veterans of World War II to these brave men, both living and dead.”
Totoy, Filner added, “has created a book with a powerful message, a book that should be in the homes and offices of every American.”
Totoy’s powerful images should be given even more prominence, as a reminder of the lonely struggle of the beteranos. As Totoy himself said, “Personally, I would like that my archive about the veterans will be housed appropriately in an institution where young Filipinos and Americans can look back on how much our heroes suffered waiting for full recognition.”
Copyright 2009 by Benjamin Pimentel
MANILA, Philippines—For these Filipino war veterans and their heirs, recognition for their efforts and their rightful place in history are more important than the $198-million compensation package from the US government.
“Our lives are priceless. It cannot be measured in dollars,” said Col. Rafael Estrada, founder of the Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Inc. (DBC), during the group’s weekly fellowship at the Veterans Center in Taguig City Wednesday.
Estrada, now 90, said the Filipino veterans “volunteered” their lives when the Philippines was still a colony of the United States.
“We were not fighting for the Philippines, we were fighting for America,” he said.
The veteran dropped by for the fellowship and left soon after because he was not feeling well.
“I don’t know if gratitude is the right word,” Estrada said. “The fact is that the American people, through their president, have finally come to the financial aid of the poor Filipino veterans.”
Rafael Evangelista, a “national commander” of the DBC, said that attaching a monetary value to the veterans’ efforts “make you look like mercenaries.” He is the son of Dr. Rafael L. Evangelista, who served in the Medical Corps of the US Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE).
Retired 2nd Lt. Emilio Aquino, who enlisted as a corporal with the USAFFE on Oct. 7, 1941, said during the DBC fellowship that he was just glad he was still around. “Obviously, I’m happy,” he said with a wide grin.
The DBC was organized in 1948 in recognition of the services of some 80,000 Filipinos who were conscripted in July 1941 on orders of Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The Filipinos were trained and organized by the US government to fight together with American troops a day after Japanese planes wiped out the US naval forces at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on Dec. 7, 1941.
War dead, survivors
Thousands of USAFFE soldiers died in Bataan and Corregidor, while many of those who survived would meet the same fate during the Death March, or the forced transfer of prisoners from Bataan to Camp O’Donnell in Tarlac.
Thousands more died in the camp, according to two survivors who attended Wednesday’s fellowship.
Retired Brig. Gen. Felix Pestaña and retired 2nd Lt. Simplicio Copiaco remembered burying 20 to 25 bodies a day at Camp O’Donnell. “We have no pencil, no paper. We didn’t even know their names,” Pestaña said.
Getting the names of those who died and survived, and honoring their sacrifice and ensuring their place in history was a topic discussed at the fellowship.
Evangelista said the DBC would sponsor a project to expand the Wall of Heroes at Camp O’Donnell after Pestaña noted that his name was there, while his friends who had died were not even engraved.
Through the Philippine Veterans Affairs Office (PVAO), the group has commissioned Dr. Trota Jose to compile the personal accounts of the men and women in WWII.
“This is not just a history the way it’s written, but it’s the story of the men and women who were there,” Jose said.
Copiaco said that when his company was “wiped out,” he was sent to Pampanga to recruit farmers to the USAFFE.
“We got them in the rice fields, taught them how to shoot, gave them uniforms and boots, and they were soldiers,” he recalled.
Apparently, a lot of the written records about the heroism of the Filipino veterans have to be corrected.
Some veterans who attended the fellowship said Gen. Tomoyuki Yamashita, the leader of the Japanese Imperial Army, did not surrender to the Americans at Camp John Hay as recorded in history books but was captured by Igorot volunteer soldiers in the Mountain Province.
Jose’s book, to be titled “Defending Bataan and Beyond” and set for release in October, will set the records straight.
It is humiliating for a veteran, let alone a Filipino veteran of World War II, to see his service in the United States military reduced to dollars and cents. But that is the result of a six-decade-long struggle that the United States itself caused — and that may have come to an end only the other day, when US President Barack Obama signed his $787-billion stimulus program into law.
The massive spending-and-tax-cuts law includes an appropriation of $198 million for payment of lump sums to Filipino veterans of the US Armed Forces in the Far East — some 18,000 out of an estimated 200,000 at the end of the war — who are still alive. Veterans who had opted to become American citizens will receive $15,000, and those who did not will receive $9,000, or less than half a million pesos.
“It’s better than nothing,” 81-year-old Manuel B. Braga told The New York Times. The Times described Braga as “a guerilla fighter in the Philippine jungles [who] now lives near San Diego,” in California.
If the lump-sum amounts are weighed by the scales of history, not those of politics, which can measure only the limits of the possible, the sums are indeed better than nothing — but not by much. At a time of great peril, Filipinos joined American soldiers in defending the Philippines, then a US colony. When the US soldiers returned home and received generous benefits, it was only a simple matter of fairness that their Filipino comrades in arms, who fought the same enemy and died in the same battles as the Americans, or endured the same ghastly march from Bataan and suffered the same prison of war, receive the same benefits.
The Rescission Act of 1946 put paid to that; in one stroke (of US President Harry Truman’s pen), it stripped Filipino soldiers of their status as US military veterans. In the six decades since, Filipino veterans fought valiantly for US recognition (if not American gratitude) and won a few important victories, including a belated option to immigrate to the United States. But the very attempt to undo the damage of the Rescission Act narrowed the veterans’ struggle, in the view of the US Congress, to money matters alone. (Before US bases negotiators unfairly accused Filipinos of so-called cash-register diplomacy, some US legislators already thought the worst of Filipino veterans.)
It is one of history’s parallel ironies that an offensive legislative act forced by cost-cutting concerns has been redeemed 63 years later by a spending bill.
We must recognize the legislative engineering that allowed the lump-sum appropriation, a key feature of what was the Veterans Equity Bill, to finally become law. Due credit must be given to the redoubtable US Sen. Daniel Inouye, himself a World War II veteran (but in the European theater of war). It was Inouye, a staunch supporter of Filipino veterans’ rights, who inserted the appropriation into the US Senate’s version of the bill, and ensured that the provision would survive the conference committee.
President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has already paid tribute to Inouye. “His crucial role will always be honored and remembered,” she said last week. It is a matter of national honor that we acknowledge Inouye’s leadership on the veterans’ issue.
Inouye said the appropriation allowed Americans to “close a dark chapter in the history of this country.” A statement he released during the congressional debates read in part: “This nation made a solemn promise, and with hardly a hearing, we revoked it. This episode is a blight upon the character of the United States, and it must be cleansed.”
If only the cleansing waters were less murky.
The Filipino veterans should have been granted monthly pensions, because that is what their American comrades in arms and some veterans of the “old” Philippine Scouts received. But after 60 years, and in the dim light of the worst economic downturn since the war itself, a modest lump sum can still pack an emotional wallop. We guess most veterans will welcome this belated gesture from the government they used to serve; the disappointment is probably keenest among those who did not have the chance to serve.
Still, a nagging question remains: Why the difference in lump sums? Those veterans who chose to remain in the Philippines — didn’t they fight the same war?
This is what Paragraph 6, Article 5 (on criminal jurisdiction) of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) says:
“The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with the United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”
Paragraph 3(d) of the same article also states:
“Recognizing the responsibility of the United States military authorities to maintain good order and discipline among their forces, Philippine authorities will, upon request by the United States, waive their primary right to exercise jurisdiction except in cases of particular importance to the Philippines. If the Government of the Philippines determines that the case is of particular importance, it shall communicate such determination to the United States authorities within twenty (20) days after the Philippine authorities receive the United States request.”
I guess the Philippine government did not consider the case of US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith of “particular importance.” And even if Manila did, and had notified the US, lawyers can split hairs and argue that the VFA does not specifically require the US to give up jurisdiction over its military personnel.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney agreed that Smith, following his conviction for raping the Filipina woman known as Nicole, must be turned over to US custody and detained at the US embassy compound. Smith, escorted by Philippine cops, was spirited out of the Makati City Jail in the dead of night.
Why were those provisions in the VFA approved? We should ask the diplomats who negotiated the agreement during the presidency of Joseph Estrada.
The VFA is patterned after similar agreements the Americans have with several other countries. Washington considers these mere executive agreements that need no ratification by their Senate. But we insisted on ratifying it. Why did our Senate, again during Erap’s time, ratify the VFA with those provisions?
The Supreme Court, acting on petitions filed by Nicole, Bayan and a group led by former Senate president Jovito Salonga, upheld the VFA but ordered Smith’s transfer to a Philippine prison.
Perhaps the SC considered Smith’s conviction by the Makati Regional Trial Court the completion of all judicial proceedings. The conviction was handed down within a year after the crime, again in compliance with a VFA provision stating, “In the event Philippine judicial proceedings are not completed within one year, the United States shall be relieved of any obligations under this paragraph” – including making Smith available for further investigation or judicial proceedings. “The one year period will not include the time necessary to appeal.”
Smith is appealing his case. But if the period for completion is one year, excluding the appeal, are judicial proceedings completed in his case? Then he can be turned over to Philippine custody.
Malacañang obviously is not about to insist on this, especially not with the US Congress just recently approving compensation for the remaining Filipino veterans of World War II as part of US President Barack Obama’s $787-billion economic stimulus package.
Such is the state of the nation. We cannot assert sovereignty because we remain dependent on Uncle Sam and many other countries. We are even starting to develop dependence on China.
We congratulate the veterans, of whom only about 18,000 are left in the Philippines and the US. But it would have been better if they had received that kind of compensation from their own government. After all, they were defending their own country, not the US.
How much is that lump sum of $9,000? Less than P500,000. That’s a total of less than P6 billion for the 12,000 surviving veterans in the Philippines. Our leaders can spend P123 million for overseas junkets, but prefer to rely on Uncle Sam to take care of our own war veterans.
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And we rely on Uncle Sam for many other things. Which is probably why the original decision on Smith’s case was half-baked and confusing.
Even if Nicole had flirted with Smith, sex with a drunken woman was Smith’s undoing. How drunk was Nicole? She could remember how many and what types of drinks she had, but the judge decided she was drunk enough.
The sex occurred in a van driven by a Filipino, with Smith’s fellow soldiers in it, all rushing to return to their ship. Whether or not they cheered Smith on, their failure to stop a rape made them accessories – including the driver, who insisted he did not think Nicole was raped. So why were the other soldiers cleared?
Either they should have all been convicted, with varying degrees of punishment, or else they should have all been cleared together with Smith. Either there was rape, witnessed by several men in a closed van, or else there was none.
The decision merits a closer review. But after the Makati court managed to comply with that one-year deadline, the case is now bogged down in the usual mire of the Philippine justice system. The Supreme Court ruling covers only custody; Smith’s appeal of his conviction is still with the Court of Appeals. How long will that case gather cobwebs before it reaches the SC?
Until that final SC ruling, it looks like the Americans intend to hold on to their Marine. And it looks like Malacañang does not intend to challenge it, regardless of the SC order on custody.
Can a Supreme Court order trump an executive agreement with a foreign government? It makes for disastrous diplomacy when international commitments made by our government is worth less than toilet paper.
We can scrap, amend or renegotiate the VFA. If it is scrapped, we also throw out all the US troops here. Washington isn’t sending its soldiers to non-war zones where there are no rules governing its troops.
If we renegotiate, we cannot change the rules in the middle of the game. The result of any renegotiation cannot be applied retroactively to Smith’s case.
In the meantime, because the venue of his detention was agreed upon by Romulo and Kenney, perhaps the two can meet again to amend their agreement. Diplomacy could offer a way out of this mess.
By Ana Marie Pamintuan
Updated February 18, 2009 12:00 AM