Manila waits for US move on Cpl Smith DFA: Americans not ready to discuss issue


By Tarra Quismundo, Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:11:00 02/14/2009

Filed Under: Crime and Law and Justice, Subic rape case, Diplomacy

MANILA, Philippines — A Philippine official on Friday said any new negotiations on custody of Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith would have to wait until the Americans were ready to talk, and indicated Manila was powerless to compel Washington to sit down immediately.

“Right now, the department is very serious in coordinating with the US embassy. But they had to approach first their experts to get their legal opinion,” Department of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Bayani Mangibin said in a phone interview.

Mangibin said: “We don’t have a policy to wait for them … What can we do if they are not ready?”

Earlier, US diplomats made it clear they were firm in their position to keep custody of the American Marine convicted of raping the Filipino woman “Nicole” until the courts had ruled with finality on Smith’s appeal.

Smith has been confined in the US Embassy compound, according to US and Philippine officials, since December 2006 after he was sentenced by a Makati court up to 40 years in jail for raping Nicole during a one-night encounter at Subic Bay Freeport. He has elevated his case to the Court of Appeals.

A new furor erupted over the custody issue after the Supreme Court last week ruled that the US-Philippine executive agreement that allowed the embassy to keep Smith ran counter to the two countries’ Visiting Forces Agreement. The court ordered the DFA to immediately negotiate with the US the transfer of Smith to a Philippine-controlled facility.

Main concern

Mangibin said the DFA had started the “process of coordination” with the embassy on the issue of custody, based on the Supreme Court ruling. He said the DFA was also consulting the Departments of Justice and Interior and Local Government, and the Solicitor General.

“Our main concern is to look for appropriate arrangements for Daniel Smith,” he said.

The embassy has said it is studying the court decision and referred it to government legal experts in Washington.

Mangibin said formal negotiations could begin after the embassy had received the legal opinion from Washington and that in the meantime, Smith would stay at the embassy compound.

3 scenarios

Interior Undersecretary Marius Corpus said yesterday that after his last check on Smith on Feb. 5—or several days before the high court’s ruling came out—he met with an embassy political officer and discussed three possibilities in anticipation of a court decision.

In that meeting, Corpus saw the embassy’s steadfast position to continue holding on to Smith until the appeals process had been completed. After his December 2006 conviction, Smith was briefly held at a Makati jail before the embassy took custody of him—in the middle of the night—based on the controversial executive agreement.

“We talked about the possible consequences of the Supreme Court decision,” Corpus said. The discussion was not prompted by any advance information on the court’s eventual ruling, Corpus said when asked if there was any leak.

“One, that the Supreme Court would declare the VFA unconstitutional. Two, I said it’s highly probable that the court would affirm the VFA’s constitutionality, including the agreement [to hold Smith at the embassy], and that it would order some provisions of the VFA revised,” Corpus said by phone.

“Third, that everything will be upheld, both the VFA and the transfer (of Smith to the embassy).”

Lobby for Smith

Corpus said when the issue of custodial arrangement was brought up, the US side said: “We’ve already agreed on that. We’d like to continue what was agreed upon.”

Corpus said he heard that a congressman from Smith’s home state of Missouri was “lobbying in the State Department for it to take care of Smith.”

“That’s the reason why they defend Smith so much,” Corpus said, adding however that he had no categorical information about the supposed lobby.

Also discussed at the meeting was Smith’s condition while in detention, particularly his having gained a lot of weight, according to Corpus, who said he had been visiting Smith almost monthly.

“They (the embassy officials) said, ‘We should give him work, with your permission,’ so that he will not deteriorate physically,” Corpus said.

Corpus said he agreed, noting that similar activities were allowed local prisoners. He said he just asked that any chores given to Smith should not compromise the terms of his confinement.

‘He is bored’

“You can see the emotional stress in him,” Corpus said. “Every time I talk to him, I can see that he is emotionally suffering. He is very bored. The condition is even better in detention facilities outside, where [detainees] have some company.”

Corpus assured the Nicole camp that Smith remained inside the embassy compound, contrary to claims by some of the rape victim’s supporters that he had been spirited out of the embassy.

“Even if I visit him every day, they will not believe me,” Corpus said.

Send him to Munti

Bayan Muna Rep. Satur Ocampo has joined growing calls for Smith’s immediate transfer to a local prison.

“We demand that the Philippine government immediately effect the transfer of Smith to the New Bilibid Prison,” Ocampo said in a press statement. “We cannot understand why a clear-cut exercise of sovereignty, in this case custody over a convicted foreign felon, should be subject to negotiations.”

Ocampo added: “What the Philippine government should do is simply impose its own laws over a foreigner who violated those laws. It should not negotiate but order the US Embassy to turn over Smith to the proper local authority.”

Indefinite delay

The leftist lawmaker said the high court’s order for the DFA to arrange a detention place acceptable to Washington was just a ruse to “indefinitely delay” Smith’s transfer. With a report from Gil C. Cabacungan Jr.

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2 Responses to “Manila waits for US move on Cpl Smith DFA: Americans not ready to discuss issue”

  1. exodians Says:

    A place to be for the criminal – – bilibid prison. Justice served!

  2. Bruce in Iloilo Says:

    Why are people so outraged over the US holding Smith? They should be outraged over the fact that he hasn’t been convicted with finality. What’s wrong with our justice system? Get it over with already! It’s been years. Justice delayed is justice denied. It is not the US that is preventing justice from being served. It is the inexcusably slow Philippine justice system. Of course Smith should be in Bilibid. It’s high time that the Philippine justice system gets around to putting him there.

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