US to keep jurisdiction over erring servicemen

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American and Filipino troops take part in ceremonies before the start of a joint military training exercise in the Philippines. PHOTO BY RENE DILAN

American and Filipino troops take part in ceremonies before the start of a joint military training exercise in the Philippines. PHOTO BY RENE DILAN

The United States government will have jurisdiction over American servicemen who violate Philippine laws while they are deployed in the country, a member of the Philippine panel negotiating an agreement on the increased rotational presence (IRP) of US forces said.

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“On matters of jurisdiction, yes [the US is in charge],” Philippine Ambassador to Malaysia Eduardo Malaya told a press briefing in Camp Aguinaldo on Monday.

Malaya said the erring American soldiers will be governed by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which the Philippine Senate ratified on May 27, 1999.

Jurisdiction over US troops who commit crimes in the Philippines has been a thorny issue ever since US Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was accused of raping a 22-year-old Filipino inside the Subic Bay Freeport in 2005.

On December 4, 2006, a Makati Regional Trial Court found Smith guilty as charged and sentenced him to 40 years in prison.

Instead of spending time in a local jail, Smith was detained at the US Embassy in Manila, despite a Supreme Court ruling ordering his transfer to Philippine custody.

Smith was later allowed to return to the US following an amicable settlement with the family of the rape victim.

Malaya said local enforcers would be allowed access to the areas that would be occupied by American servicemen in the “exercise of their police power” but cannot make any arrests.

Sources in the Defense department said the jurisdiction issue cost Foreign Affairs Secretary Carlos Soreta his place in the Philippine panel.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario removed Soreto even before the start of the first round of talks last January after Soreta opposed conceding jurisdiction to the US.

He also insisted that the Philippine military gain control of the equipment and facilities that would be brought in or built by the Americans.

Another panel member, Ambassador Lourdes Yparaguirre, explained that ousting Soreto was a decision of the Department of Foreign Affairs.

“In these negotiations we talked about rotational presence as one of the modalities, we also have a rotation mechanism in the Philippine foreign service. What was not changed however is the commitment of the Philippine panel to advance the Philippine interest in this negotiations,” Yparaguirre said.

The accord will be signed against the backdrop of the increased Chinese aggression in the West Philippine Sea.

House leaders see the balance of power in the disputed waters maintained with the presence of American troops in the country.

“The increased rotational presence of US forces in the country should be allowed since it will have a significant impact of balancing the forces in the Southeast Asian region. China has been increasingly aggressive on [their stance vs.]smaller countries like the Philippines. This certainly will deter China from further bullying us,” Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, a former Marine captain and the Vice Chairman of the House National Defense and Security panel, said in a text message.

“The mere presence of US forces in our soil and our adversary’s knowledge that the US is our ally would at least retain the status quo in the West Philippine Sea. That way, China won’t fully occupy it [PH islands in the Exclusive Economic Zone],” Sherwin Tugna of Citizens Battle Against Corruption, the House Deputy Majority leader, added.

“Just like in the Cold War, an effective balance of power will ensure all parties to the negotiating table to forge a peaceful settlement,” Rodel Batocabe of Ako Bicol said.

But for Gabriela Rep. Luz Ilagan, allowing Americans on Philippine soil will only make the country a target of China’s lingering ire and a pawn of the power struggle between Washington and Beijing.

“There is no such thing as free lunch. The US, not exactly known for its generosity but instead for pursuing its own interests, will extract its pound of flesh from us,” Ilagan said.

Presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda agreed that the presence of US servicemen will strengthen the country’s hand in the face of sea disputes with China.

“Does this help in terms of the presence—the rotational presence—of the Americans? Certainly it would help. And the reason why it helps is because there’s some technology transfer, there’s knowledge sharing between the American forces and the Philippine forces when they do conduct military exercises,” Lacierda said.

He said such an agreement would improve the “quality of the Philippines in terms of preparedness.”

“Let me also emphasize that a part of this rotational presence is now focusing on disaster preparedness and disaster reduction.

That’s one of the big improvements especially when it comes to increased rotational presence where we saw the involvement of the American military when Typhoon Yolanda hit Central Visayas,” Lacierda said.

On Sunday, Presidential Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. assured the agreement would not allow the US government to set up permanent bases in the Philippines but would only “share” camps with the Philippine military.

With report from Joel M. Sy Egco

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7 Comments

  1. Rosauro Feliciano on

    Hi Folks, Oriental History tells us that Japan as a foremost Asian country (and perhaps the only Asian Country up to this moment in time) whose justice system is exemplary was recognized by the United States even before the WWII.

  2. Pete Gabriel okay they will be punished so what will happen to their victims to be?

  3. the critics are all true but due to the corruptioness of our government and the AFP the modernization had been neglected for 20 yrs. so this is now the sacrifice and swallowing of our pride and bow to our superpower ally. Of course they get what they wanted. and we will always be the underdog or at the bottom of the food chain. We did this to ourselves. If the AFP was modernized especially the SRDP of former Pres Marcos was retained, No one in the neighborhood will bully us. Plain simple.

    Just my 1 centavo.

  4. Pete Gabriel on

    That amicable resolution was the US allowing Nicole the alleged rape victim to immigrate to the US. I am a retired US Navy man, I know for a fact the US will never allow any service member to voluntarily be in the custody of any foreign government. US service members are governed by the Uniformed Code of Military Justice which is more stringent than that of civilian US laws. Erring service members are not just sweep under the rug, they get punished, sometimes jailed depending on the severity of the offence, they get discharged from the military with a BCD and this could ruin their lives for any future considerations of a good job in the civilian sector.

    • Peter- As a former U.S. Army Soldier, In the STARS AND STRIPES NEWSPAPER, I read that a American Naval Personnel was handed over to the Japanese Police for pretrial detention and interrogation. The accused rape case happened around the same time as the Daniel Smith Case.
      I did further study on the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the U.S. and foreign nations. In 1995, there was the Okinawa Rape Case. This caused wide spread consternation in Okinawa because of the involvement of U.S. Navy and Marine Personnel kidnapping and raping a 12 year old girl. These 3 were tried and convicted in a Japanese Court, then imprisoned in Japanese Penal Institution. They were released, then the U.S. Military gave the 3 service members dishonorable discharge. Their superior officer, a 4 star admiral made inappropriate comments. He was cashiered out of the U.S. Navy and reduced from 4 star to 2 star rank.
      After this crime, the U.S. Military has voluntarily given up U.S. Service Members accused of rape, murder, and other serious crimes for pretrial dentition and interrogation to Japanese Authorities. It depends on the nation that can force U.S. Military Authorities.

    • Since the 1995 Okinawa Rape Case involving 3 U.S. Service Members and 12 year old Japanese Girl, the U.S. Military Forces have voluntarily handed U.S. Service Members to the Japanese Police for pretrial detention and interrogation for major crimes. This is not always done automatically. It’s done on a case by case.
      In this country, it’s blanket case that U.S. Forces are not going to be placed in a Filipino Facility for pretrial detention. From the American End, , there are major concerns about the Philippines Criminal Justice System.
      You are correct that the U.S. Military doesn’t sweep these issues under the rug. The 1995 Convicts were given something harsher than a bad conduct discharge. t was a dishonorable discharge. The 4 star U.S. Admiral said very inappropriate things. He was cashiered out and reduced in rank to a 2 star rank.

  5. Sooooo I guess they will still be “allowed” to rape women and start that second brown family here in the islands…then leave them behind when their deployment is over and they return to their American family. Right….