Manila - The United States embassy has refused to relinquish custody of four US Marines accused of rape despite a warrant of arrest against them.
The US cited the Visiting Force Agreement (VFA), Article 5, paragraph 6 that allows the US to keep custody of its troops in the country.
The VFA is a bilateral agreement that allows military exercises between the Philippines and the US. The four accused are part of the American contingent that participated in the drills. They were charged with raping a Filipina in the former American navel base in Subic on Nov 1, 2005.
Some sectors have denounced the American government for observing a double standard when the US navy promptly turned over an American sailor accused of murdering a Japanese woman to local authorities in Okinawa. Gabriela party-list Representative in the Philippines' Congress, Liza Maza assailed that while an existing US-Japan agreement also stipulates US custody for servicemen charged with heinous crimes, the US Government turned over one of its soldiers who was accused of killing a Japanese. “Compared to Japan, the Philippines is being treated (by the US) like a `doormat'”, she said.
While the VFA provides US custody of the marines in the duration of the trial of the case, international law also provides equity and fairness in any agreement, be it a treaty or an executive agreement.
“The unfairness and anti-Filipino provisions of the VFA have already been exposed and it is incumbent upon the Congress to seek its termination. We cannot be truly independent under such an onerous pro-American agreement”, said Party-list Representative Satur Ocampo in a statement. He added “That action of Washington was arrogant and unfair to a client state, but its nothing new and its not surprising”.
Many in Philippines viewed the disregard for the warrant as a sign of US disrespect for Philippine laws and this could be a subject for a review of the treaty and a diplomatic level discussion. In the meantime, the issue of custody will be left to the judge to decide.
Militant and nationalist groups have been holding protests since the alleged rape occurred, demanding immediate cancellation of all joint war games with American troops.
The Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye reassured that the government was confident that the US would continue to cooperate with the Philippines in ensuring a speedy and fair trial on the case in accordance with the law. He urged Filipinos not to turn the case into an emotional issue “against an old time friend and ally”.
* Philippines appeals for calm over rape case involving US marines (Asia-Pacific News, 18 Jan)
* 4 Gls seek review of rape case (ABS-CBNnews, 19 Jan)
* US rejects RP bid to have custody of 4 Marines (Sun Star, 18 Jan)
* A commentary “To the Point” by Emil Jurado (Manila Standard Today, 18 Jan)
* US nixes RP request for custody of Marines in rape case (INQ7 Net, 17 Jan)
* Subic Rape Case - Palace still undecided on custody, DFA to let judge decide (INQ7 Net, 18 Jan)
* Govt denied custody of US troops (Gulf Times, 18 Jan)