Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Palace: VFA agency boss a loose cannon

PALACE sources yesterday portrayed Executive Director Zosimo Paredes of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement as a loose cannon who embarrassed the government and misled the media.

“Paredes never should have held himself out as the spokesman of the VFACom or Malacañang regarding the VFA,” a Palace official told Standard Today. “His statements have caused a lot of embarrassment to the Palace and to the Department of Foreign Affairs.”

During budget hearings last Wednesday, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo told the Senate he has ordered Paredes to stop issuing statements about VFA or the case in which four US servicemen are accused of raping a Filipina in Subic.

Romulo has also advised the US embassy in Manila to ignore Paredes and his statements.

“Paredes’ acts were unauthorized,” the Palace insider said. “He deliberately misled the media to believe that his statements were binding on the VFACom or on Malacañang.”

The Palace’s remarks disowning Paredes came as anger mounted over Judge Renato Dilag’s decision to recall warrants of arrest issued to the four US marines.

Dilag withdrew the warrants after Washington refused to turn the suspects over to Philippine authorities, saying they had a right to do so under the terms of VFA.

Dilag defended his action by saying VFA is “part of the law of the land” that had been signed by the government and upheld by the Supreme Court.

Reacting to the case, the North Cotabato provincial board yesterday withdrew its invitation to a small group of US troops taking part in the ongoing joint military exercises with the Armed Forces in Mindanao.

North Cotabato Gov. Manuel Piñol and his provincial board urged President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to immediately suspend the one-month exercise that began in the province in mid-January unless the four accused were placed in Philippine custody.

Earlier, the legislative oversight committee on VFA approved a concurrent resolution urging the President to terminate the treaty and renegotiate its terms.

Romulo, however, rejected this call, saying that VFA is “mutually beneficial” and that it strengthens the security relationship between the Philippines and the United States.

Administration officials, he said, “understand and respect the intensity of the sentiments of some members of Philippine society on this issue.” But he said he also respected the judge’s ruling and insisted that “the wheels of Philippine justice are turning, in full compliance with the law.”

A DFA official said the department is continuing to negotiate with the US embassy in Manila over custody, but rejected a proposal from an administration senator that the President take the case to US President George W. Bush.

“We’ve been successful in addressing the issue so there’s no reason why we should do that as of now,” said Undersecretary for Special Concerns Rafael Seguis.

Seguis, who heads the DFA panel negotiating with the US embassy, did not say how his team has been successful.

The four suspects — Daniel Smith, Chad Carpentier, Dominic Duplantis and Keith Silkwood — continue to be in American custody in the US embassy.

Prosecutors in Olongapo City, meanwhile, appealed a decision by Dilag to throw out the complaint against the driver of the van in which the rape was alleged to have occurred.

Prosecutors wanted Timoteo Soriano Jr. charged as a coconspirator after he recanted on his earlier testimony that the four marines had raped the woman inside the van.

Dilag, however, said his inclusion in the case appeared to be an afterthought and dropped him from the case.

City Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni, however, said the judge had arrogated upon himself the power that rightfully belongs to the prosecution. “We believe, your honor, that in so doing, the court has abused its discretion to the extent that the court lacks jurisdiction in discharging the accused Timoteo Soriano.”

In an interview, Dilag said he would schedule the arraignment of the rape case after the 60-day maximum period in which the justice department has to resolve petitions for review filed by the accused. Malou Dungog, Ferdinand Fabella, Manila Standard with AFP


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