Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Friday, January 27, 2006

Judge kowtows to VFA

Olongapo judge recalls warrants

By Jomar Canlas, Manila Times Reporter

The judge hearing the rape charges against four US Marines on Thursday recalled the warrants for their arrest after the US Embassy in Manila invoked the Visiting Forces Agreement allowing it to keep custody of the accused.

Judge Renato Dilag of Olongapo City recalled the warrants for Keith Silkwood, Daniel Smith, Chad Carpentier and Dominic Duplantis after the Department of Justice informed him that the embassy had issued a note verbale invoking the VFA.

“This court takes judicial notice of the fact that the VFA, as a treaty, is now part of the law of the land. Its constitutionality has been upheld by the Supreme Court in several cases,” Dilag said in his ruling.

He also deferred the petition for review filed by the four US Marines before the Department of Justice. Dilag had asked the department to act on the petition within 60 days, else he would arraign the accused.

He denied the Americans’ motion for him to recuse himself because he had allegedly prejudged the case.

The four Marines are in the custody of the US Embassy.

Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni of Olongapo said he will not contest the recalling of the warrants.

“We will not appeal. We will even make it as our basis in our motion to set the case for arraignment. The case will proceed faster that way and we’ll see if the Americans will keep their word,” Jalandoni said.

The embassy has vowed to cooperate with local authorities and said the accused would be presented to the court once the actual hearing starts.

But it stressed that “the US government shall continue to exercise custody until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

It invoked Article 5, paragraph 6 of the VFA, which provides that the US shall keep custody of servicemen charged in Philippine courts.

Jalandoni has appealed Dilag’s decision dismissing the case against Timoteo Soriano, the Filipino driver of the van where the four Marines allegedly raped a 22-year-old Filipina on All Saints’ Day.

Jalandoni said the court should have acted on Soriano’s motion to defer the issuance of the warrant of arrest and determine if there is probable cause to have him arrested.

The four accused were on shore leave in Subic after taking part in joint exercises with Philippine troops.

Arraignment of the four would begin as soon as the justice department resolves within 60 days the motions for review filed by the Americans’ lawyers, Dilag said.

They have denied the crime, but one of them admitted to having had consensual sex with the alleged victim, court records show.

The case has claimed widespread interest in this former US colony, and on Thursday a small group of protesters burned an American flag outside the US Embassy to protest Washington’s refusal to turn over the suspects.

But US Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop said his government was cooperating fully with local authorities “so that the facts would come out and justice is served.”

He said the controversy should not affect bilateral ties between the allies, which next month are due to hold large-scale joint counterterrorism exercises on the southern island of Jolo, where al-Qaeda-linked militants operate.

“I don’t think it will have a negative effect,” Lussenshop said on ANC Television. --With AFP


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