BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
The multi-secrtoral group Bagong Alyansang makabayan (Bayan or New Patriotic Alliance), together with other cause-oriented groups and individual petitioners, filed today a motion for reconsideration on the custody of L/Cpl. Daniel Smith of the US Marines, who was convicted in the SUbic rape case, and the constitutionality of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Joining Bayan were Bayan Muna (People First), GABRIELA, Gabriela Women’s Party (GWP), and the Public Interest Law Center (PILC). The other petitioners were former Sens. Jovito Salonga and Wigberto Tañada, as well as Subic rape victim “Nicole”.
The Makati City Regional Trial Court, in early December 2006, convicted Smith — a participant in the Balikatan military exercises — and ordered his confinement at the Makati City Jail pending his imprisonment at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City. However, on Dec. 29, 2006, he was purportedly transferred to a detention facility at the US Embassy in Manila under an agreement between Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and US Ambassador to the Phililippines Kristie Kenney, which is now known as the Romulo-Kenney Agreement.
On Feb. 11, the Supreme Court ruled that the Romulo-Kenney Agreement is not in accordance with the VFA.
Yesterday, the Office of the Solicitor-General filed a motion for reconsideration before the Supreme Court, arguing that Smith’s current confinement at the US Embassy in Manila is legal under the VFA.
“With the Sol-Gen’s motion, it is clear that the Arroyo government has no intention of immediately acquiring custody of Smith,” said Bayan secretary-general Renato Reyes, Jr. “he Arroyo government in fact has further weakened any chance of the Philippines getting back Smith by showing an utter lack of interest in asserting sovereignty.”
“The Office of the Solicitor General is a now a virtual annex of the US embassy. Ms. Devanadera is obviously lawyering for Smith and the US State Department. What we’re seeing here is the Arroyo government totally abandoning national sovereignty in the name of special relations with the US,” Reyes added.
Reyes also pointed out that several government agencies have been “orchestrating” moves to justify the VFA.
“Several government agencies such as the DFA, DOJ and DND are in a coordinated offensive, saying we cannot live without the VFA,” the Bayan leader said. “They sing the chorus that the VFA is beneficial for Filipinos and that it’s indispensable. They think that (it is all right) to compromise national interest in exchange for token gains like medical missions and counter-‘terror’ training,” he said.
Through its lawyers, Bayan also argued that the VFA’s validity as a treaty is questionable, citing the existence of a counterpart agreement (VFA II) which, the group said, gives Filipino soldiers visiting the US fewer rights and privileges than US troops visiting the Philippines.
Passed by the Philippine Senate and signed by then-President Joseph Estrada in 1999, the VFA among other things grants extra-territorial and extra-judicial “rights” to US servicemen visiting the Philippines for “military exercises”. It exempts visiting US servicemen from the standard visa and passport requirements — a privilege not extended to Filipino soldiers visiting the US under VFA II. (Bulatlat.com)