November 11, 2005

Injustice amidst subservience

The chances that justice will come for the 22-year-old Filipina who has accused 6 US servicemen of raping her last November 1 inside the former US base in Subic, Olongapo City is no better than previous cases of rape and even homicide that were lodged against members of the US military during the heyday of the US bases in the country.

During that time, poor Filipinos scavenging for scrap material inside the fenced-off base area were shot at like wild pigs, apparently not so much for security reasons but as target practice for bored soldiers manning security outposts. No cases of rape or manslaughter have ever been successfully pursued till the perpetrators get their just desserts because of the sheer lopsided status of the Filipino victims versus their American tormentors.

Thus the Philippines has the dubious distinction of having a long history of US servicemen guilty of grievous, if not heinous, crimes getting away scot-free, completely beyond the reach of Philippine judicial processes.

Were the laws of the land paramount, the six suspects would be in jail by now or at least preliminary investigation could be accelerated to ensure that they do not go into hiding or skip town.

The Filipino public is especially quick to be roused to sympathize with a rape victim, despite the still pervasive macho culture, because of the feudal and Roman Catholic value given to a woman’s chastity, especially that of a young woman.

Sometimes, when the victim is clearly dejado or disadvantaged by socio-economic status, there can even be a backlash against the perpetrators if they happen to be scions of rich families who are perceived to be abusing their privileged positions in society to get away with their crimes and misdemeanors.

But this is not an ordinary criminal case involving another Filipino whereby Philippine jurisdiction over the case would be undisputed. What has immediately been invoked both by US and Philippine authorities is the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that, despite merely being considered an “executive agreement” by the US government, appears to supervene the national laws of this land, including the Revised Penal Code that covers heinous crimes such as gang rape.
As opponents of the VFA had argued all the way to the Supreme Court, the VFA institutionalized a set-up that no self-respecting independent nation would have accepted.

Concretely, under the VFA , US servicemen who are suspects in the commission, even of heinous crimes, are not automatically under the exclusive jurisdiction of the Philippine government.
Art. V, paragraphs 3 (a) and 3 (b) state that U.S. military authorities have exclusive jurisdiction over offenses punishable under Philippine law as long as these are also punishable under the “criminal and disciplinary jurisdiction” conferred upon U.S. authorities by military law, (underscoring ours) and of offenses arising out of performance of official duty.

We aver that indeed, this is the provision that is used to assert US jurisdiction in this case since by no stretch of the imagination can rape be considered an offense “arising out of performance of official duty”.

Of course, the US government could accede to an assertion by the Philippine government of jurisdiction over the rape case because if its “particular importance to the Philippines” but as of press time, we have not heard of any such position taken by the Arroyo administration. Malacañang has so far been meekly accepting US custody and jurisdiction.

Furthermore, contrary to the pronouncements of the Department of Justice that the Philippines will get custody of the six accused US servicemen when arrests warrants have been issued, the VFA stipulates otherwise. Thus it is the US government’s position that “until proven guilty” the accused will remain in US custody and will only “be made available” to local judicial proceedings.
The latest admission by the Presidential Commission on the RP-US VFA is that the Philippine government is helpless should the US government choose to bring the six accused out of the Philippines since the VFA has “no qualification” as to where exactly an accused can be held.
Nonetheless, the VFA is not the ultimate culprit. Even without invoking the VFA, US and Philippine authorities have collaborated to whisk away beyond the reach of Philippine law no less than a suspected terrorist bomber who left a trail of circumstantial evidence that he was or had been a CIA agent.

This was in 2002, in Evergreen Hotel in Davao City, when a certain Michael Meiring, a South African-born American citizen and self-proclaimed treasure hunter, caused injury to himself and damage to hotel property when he accidentally detonated a bomb he had been assembling.
Despite severe injury to his two legs and arrest warrants for illegal possession of firearm and ammunition issued by local authorities Meiring was able to elude arrest.

From the Davao hospital, Meiring vanished and eventually managed to leave the Philippines apparently with the help of officials from the United States Embassy which, of course, issued a denial of any involvement in Meiring's departure. It stands to reason that other government officials at the national level also facilitated the escape of the suspected terrorist.

Now the Arroyo government has the gall to argue that the absence of an Anti-terrorism Bill (ATB) is the reason terrorists, local and foreign, get away with impunity. Meanwhile people are being killed, maimed and harassed in the name of “upholding the rule of law” and counterterrorism.

Indeed Malacañang and its supporters have argued ad nauseum that the “calibrated preemptive response” or CPR, the ATB, and all the armamentarium of a so-called “strong republic” are needed to safeguard ordinary citizens’ rights and lives from destabilizers and terrorists.
Our tart response: Tell that to the marines. This government must first prove itself capable of protecting its own citizens against the depredations of foreign criminal elements not to mention asserting the country’s sovereignty and dignity against the almighty United States of America.

Nov. 11-12, 2005


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