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Palace to appeal SC ruling on Smith

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Joel Guinto

MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE 2) Malacañang will appeal last week’s Supreme Court order to return a US Marine convicted of rape to Philippine custody, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said.

Ermita said the agreement between Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney, which allowed the detention of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith at the US embassy grounds in Manila, was “very much in accord” with the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

While it upheld the constitutionality of the VFA, the High Tribunal nullified the agreement between Romulo and Kenney.

Ermita and Kenney, in separate interviews, acknowledged that the VFA, which governs the conduct of American troops in the Philippines, had the “force of treaty.”

“We would, however, seek clarification with the Supreme Court on the finding that the Romulo-Kenney agreements were not in accord with the VFA,” Ermita said in a statement.

Section 6 of the VFA “clearly implies that pending final judgment, custody of the accused shall be with the United States military authorities,” Ermita said.

Section 10, on the other hand, implies that “custody shall rest with Philippine authorities once the accused commences serving sentence, meaning after final judgment.”

Smith has appealed his conviction before the Court of Appeals. He can also appeal the appellate court’s ruling before the Supreme Court if it upholds his sentence.

“Thus, it is the view of the executive that the Romulo-Kenney agreements were very much in accord with Section 6, Article V of the VFA,” Ermita said.

In an interview on the sidelines of an assembly of the League of Cities in Mandaluyong City, Kenney said legal experts in Washington were still studying the Supreme Court ruling.

“They’re examining this carefully. This is an important issue. It has the force of treaty for us,” she said.

“The VFA falls under a treaty. It is not something you push to the other side,” Ermita told a news conference, adding, “You dance in rhythm, in unison, in harmony.”

Asked if it would be more difficult for Manila to press for custody of Smith since the VFA is considered a treaty, Ermita said: “It’s very hard for me to speculate because I’m not an expert on it. All I know is that there are no hard and fast rules about whether treaties can be abrogated or not and how fast.”

Kenney evaded questions on calls to abbrogate the VFA, which guides the conduct of American military forces in the country.

“I think freedom of opinion and expression is a hallmark of both the Philippines and America,” she said.

While it upheld the constitutionality of the VFA, the Supreme Court nullified an agreement between Kenney and Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo that allowed for Smith’s transfer from the Makati City jail to the US Embassy grounds in Manila.

Smith was convicted in December 2006 of raping a Filipina, identified in court only as Nicole, in the former Subic Naval base in Olongapo City last November 2005.

Three other US Marines who allegedly egged Smith on during the rape — Staff Sergeant Chad Carpentier and Lance Corporals Keith Silkwood and Dominique Duplantis — were acquitted but were tried before a US court martial.

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Written by joelguinto

WedUTC2009-02-18T14:07:02+00:00UTC02bUTCWed, 18 Feb 2009 14:07:02 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 pm02

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