The transfer of a United States Marine convicted of raping a Filipino woman in Subic
to the US Embassy has angered activists and reportedly surprised a government official, who Saturday questioned the move’s legal basis.
Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith was transferred from the city jail in suburban Makati City to the US Embassy in Manila just before midnight Friday.
The move occurred despite calls by various groups that he remain in detention in a Philippine jail.
About 200 protesters staged a picket outside the US Embassy, waving placards calling US President George W. Bush and President Arroyo “the king and queen of rapists.”
Mrs. Arroyo’s chief legal counsel Sergio Apostol said the transfer was authorized by the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology. A Department of Interior and Local Government official Undersecretary Marius Corpus, claimed that the Constitution cannot be invoked in on this issue since this is an international matter and that the executive action (of ordering the transfer of Smith to the custody of the Americans) is superior to constitutional law.
Palace aides were one in saying that the move to spirit away Smith clandestinely and in the dead of the night, was legal and cannot be questioned by anyone.
A reliable source from the executive branch of government told the Tribune that Malacañang “virtually got the nod of the Court of Appeals when the CA justices merely “noted” the appeal made by the Solicitor General to have Smith transferred.
“Two of the CA justices were ready to rule on the transfer, giving the US government custody of Smith, but one CA justice was against it. This is why it was taking too long and why they now have to have a five man CA to rule on this,” the source informed the Tribune yesterday, stressing that the US custody issue will be upheld in favor of the US.
He added that when it was “noted,” the two justices were asked what it meant, and “they said, do whatever you have to do.”
This was taken to mean by Malacañang that there were no more legal barriers, the source said.
The presidential legal counsel for his part said the decision of Judge Pozon was that the detention of Smith at Makati city jail was temporary and that he can be transferred after an agreement between the Philippines and the United States is reached,” Apostol said.
Apostol said that decision had been complied with after Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and US ambassador Kristie Kenney signed such an accord earlier this month.
Smith’s victim, identified only as “Nicole,” said in a radio interview that the transfer of the marine was a betrayal of the entire country.
“I am dismayed by our government. From the start, I have wanted our fellow Filipinos to understand what I am fighting for. This is not just my struggle, it is a struggle for all of us,” she said.
“They should say our own government cannot protect us. America is better because they can protect their criminals,” she remarked.
Leftist groups threatened to file criminal charges against the officials who authorized the transfer, adding that Smith’s removal late at night was “a treacherous and cowardly act.”
The government move was condemned by militant groups with the militant women’s group Gabriela crying treachery over the underhanded transfer of convicted rapist from the Makati City Jail to the US Embassy last night at about 11 p.m.
The move sparked a protest rally yesterday in front of the US Embassy as the women’ group expressed its outrage over the transfer and called for the Philippine and US officials to surface the criminal.
“Like thieves in the night, the Arroyo administration and its cohorts from the foreign affairs and justice departments as well as the Filipino lawyers for Smith have again done this cunning move,” said Emmi de Jesus, secretary general of Gabriela.
“They have staunchly defended the rapist and the VFA as protector of the rapist, and now they have gone this far to show their servitude to US by allowing the escape of a criminal,” De Jesus said, adding they will hold the involved government officials criminally liable for betrayal of the people’s trust and rape of sovereignty.
Lawyer Evalyn Ursua, the legal counsel of the victim in the Subic rape case, condemned the transfer, “in the dead of night,” of convicted US serviceman back to US custody as “another rape.”
Ursua believes those who effected this transfer, particularly the officials of the Philippine government, should be held criminally and administratively liable.
“They have just raped our Constitution. They just raped our court. They raped our law and they should be held criminally as well as administratively liable,” said Ursua.
Ursua said if it is necessary to file an impeachment case against the President for allowing her officials do this, then they will have to do it. “So whoever did this should be answerable to our courts,” said Ursua, saying she believes the transfer had the blessings of President Arroyo.
“The transfer of Smith was done in the dead of night, knowing that the next day is Saturday, and no court is open. “They did at night so that the public will not know as they did it in secret,” Ursua said.
The US government also received a flak for its role in the transfer of Smith, saying it is a clear indication of foreign intervention and violation of the country’s sovereignty. Ursua said the US and Philippine government disrespected the courts.
“Why did we still have a trial? Why did they still go to the Court of Appeals when they can do whatever they want?”
On opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson’ spart, he said: “What wrong have the Filipino people done to deserve a double whammy from the Arroyo government during the holiday season?
“Garci ( former poll commissioner Virgilio Garcillano) and Smith are GMA’s holiday ‘gifts’ to the Filipino people. While cooling herself with husband Mike in Baguio City, her gang leaders in Manila were executing her orders to extricate Garcillano and Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith from the fix they were in,” Lacson said.
With the latest incident, Lacson reiterated his call to the people not to surrender the country’s sovereignty and dignity, “even in the face of a threatening super power.” “If like Mrs. Arroyo we cave in to this threat, we have no business talking about self-respect and love for our country,” he said. With Ben Gines, Jr., AFP and Tribune wires