COMMENT: Is Paredes right?

No! There’s a difference. Remaining in office on leave, he will still receive his salary and he may not make the  acting mayor feel as free as when he is mayor.  Resigning, he saved six months of his salary for Matalam municipality and allowed his vice mayor to earn full credit as mayor for what he does in the next six months.

But one question: Could he have done that had the vice mayor not been his brother? Call that “the call of political dynasty.”  As regular mayor, his brother, Oscar, can entrench himself for the May election.   

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Both praised and scorned, is Undersecretary Zosimo Paredes, executive director of the Presidential Commission on the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACom) in having contradictory positions toward his boss – the President.

Is he right in (1) supporting the Palace’s stand that convicted Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith should be confined at the US Embassy after his conviction of rape while (2) criticizing the Palace for “taking the law into its own hands” by transferring Smith from Makati City jail without court order?

To his misfortune, he gained no merit for agreeing; but he had to resign for disagreeing. His is the fate of all presidential appointees: Serving at the pleasure of the President means pleasing her or him all the time. A kilo of pleasing is weightless against an ounce of displeasing.

Officials’ Position

In disagreeing with the Palace, Paredes only pointed out the inconsistency of its officials’ position which in final analysis is the President’s. What is this position?

Last December 23, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said this about Smith’s custody case: “What is important is to have an early resolution. We leave that to the sound judgment of the [appellate court], but [it] should consider our international commitment”. [PDI, 12-24-06].

What was Bunye saying: (1) the Court of Appeals must decide; the Palace will wait. But (2) the decision should uphold the Palace’s position to return Smith to the US custody.

Last December 29, less than an hour before midnight, on order of Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno based on the advice of Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales, Smith was transferred from Makati City jail to the US Embassy, ignoring the court.

Taking full responsibility, Puno stated, as published [PDI, December 31]:

First, Makati Judge Benjamin Pozon ruled, in convicting Smith of rape last December 4, that the American shall be in the Makati jail “until such time that he Philippines and the US government agree on the place of detention” in accordance with VFA provisions (bold supplied).

Second, such agreement had already been signed by US Ambassador Kristie Kenny and Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo — to return Smith under US custody.  Gonzales ruled that under the agreement Smith’s “transfer was in full compliance with the court  decision”.

“It was a DILG decision in compliance with (Pozon’s) decision in accordance with the  DOJ’s opinion (bold supplied).  We were just the implementor of the court decision in accordance with our treaty obligation under the VFA.”

Inconsistency

In his December 23 statement, Bunye said that the Palace would wait for the decision of the Court of Appeals. Citing Gonazles’ opinon last December 30, Puno said that the Romulo-Kenney agreement, having complied with Pozon’s decision, was a sufficient legal basis to transfer Smith even without the appellate court’s decision.

Was the secretary of justice’s opinion consistent with the VFA – in particular with Sections 6 and 10 of Article V?

Pertinent provision of Section 6 states: “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….”

… and  obliges “United States authorities … upon formal notification by Philippine authorities and without delay” to “make such personnel available to those authorities in time for any investigative or judicial proceedings relating to the offense …”

Section 10 states: “The confinement or detention by Philippine authorities of United States personnel shall be carried out in facilities agreed on by appropriate Philippine and United States authorities.  United States personnel serving sentences in the Philippines shall have the right to visits and material assistance.”     

Section 6 applies to the custody of the US personnel during the court trial – “from the commission of the offense until the completion of all judicial proceedings”.  No agreement is required; the US has the right of custody.

The “agreement” called for in Section 10 concerning “confinement or detention … facilities” obviously refers to “personnel serving sentences in the Philippines ….”

Does the Romulo-Kenney agreement not, in reality, admit that Smith started serving his sentence last December 4?  However, is the agreement in compliance with Pozon’s decision that Smith should be jailed within Philippine jurisdiction?

In agreeing to return Smith to the US Embassy according to Section 6, they insisted that “all judicial proceedings” have not been completed since it is still on appeal.  But Section 6 also states that the “one-year period” to complete such proceedings “will not include the time necessary to appeal”.

The Court of Appeals, last January 3, clearly ruled: “The term ‘all judicial proceedings’ … refers to all trial court proceedings.”  Hence, these were completed last December 4.

Paredes Right?

Did the Palace – with the US Embassy — take the law into its own hands?

The Palace did not want to offend the US that demanded the custody of Smith. The cancellation of the February 2007 Balikatan was a clear signal at what price the demand can be refused.  Other military and economic assistance are at risk.

So the Palace, bowed to the US demand and called the Romulo-Kenney agreement in compliance with the court decision according to the VFA despite the inconsistencies.

Sen. Miriam Defensor- Santiago said that the Philippines and the US are the sole interpreters of their treaty – provisions and definitions. Should the Philippine court, trying a US personnel for a heinous crime, defer to Santiago and interpret the VFA contrary to Philippine laws and court rules and procedures?

And worse, do so to please the US in exchange for its military and economic assistance and fear of losing the same? (“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it )

 

 

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