Thursday, November 17, 2005

Gonzales sipsip sa Kano

DoJ chief accused of coddling six GIs
First posted 07:31am (Mla time) Nov 17, 2005
By Juliet Labog-Javellana, Philip C. Tubeza, Tonette Orejas
Inquirer News Service

NO LESS than Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez is protecting the American servicemen accused of raping a 22-year-old Filipino woman, ordering them to be placed under the custody of the US Embassy immediately upon its request, lawyer Katrina Legarda said yesterday.

The only government agency left caring for the rape victim is the Department of Social Welfare and Development.

"We are involved here because it is the DSWD's mandate to provide services to abused children and women. We'll just focus on the psycho-social well-being of the victim and the family," said Social Welfare Secretary Luwalhati Pablo.

Legarda, counsel for the woman allegedly raped by six servicemen on Nov. 1 at the Subic Bay Freeport in Zambales, said Gonzalez received a call from a US Embassy attaché early on Nov. 2.

"On the basis of that call, the DoJ (Department of Justice) secretary ordered the Olongapo fiscal to turn the US servicemen over to the US Embassy," Legarda told the Inquirer.

Because of the turnover, prosecutors failed to conduct an inquest immediately and police were unable to arrest and detain the servicemen who had participated in the recent RP-US counterterrorism exercises in the Philippines, the lawyer said.

During inquest, the prosecutor determines probable cause against the accused immediately after the commission of a crime.

"It seems to me that the DoJ is out to protect the Americans. There was no intent to have these soldiers go to jail. He let them go," Legarda said.

Transfer of case rejected

Yesterday, Gonzalez rejected Legarda's request to transfer the preliminary investigation of the case, scheduled for Nov. 23, from Olongapo City to Manila.

While admitting that he has yet to read her letter-request, Gonzalez described as "illogical" Legarda's fear that her client's case might end up like the other sexual abuse and rape cases that had been dismissed by the Olongapo City Prosecutor's Office.

"The circumstances are different there," Gonzalez said. He added that if the prosecutors showed any bias or other anomalous actions, then he would have the case transferred to the DOJ in Manila.

"Let's have the preliminary investigation first. If there's a good reason (to transfer the case), then we'll do it but let's allow the fiscal to do his job," he said.

'Good luck sign'

Gonzalez again reminded the suspects that nonappearance during the preliminary investigation and not submitting their counteraffidavits would mean that the charge against them before the prosecutors would go unchallenged.

"Strictly speaking, they can waive it but you cannot file your counteraffidavit without swearing before the fiscal," he said.

While rejecting Legarda's request for a transfer, Gonzalez said he was willing to grant her wish that Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño be appointed as special prosecutor if a case against the US Marines was later filed in court.

Legarda has said that she wants Zuño as a "good luck" sign since he was the prosecutor who helped her convict former Zamboanga Representative Romeo Jalosjos for raping an 11-year-old girl in 1996.

"They can have it if they want it," Gonzalez said.

In Olongapo City, Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni said it was "not true" that as many as 3,000 rape cases against Americans had been dismissed when the freeport was still a US naval base.

He said fewer than 30 cases had been filed against US sailors and most had been dismissed for lack of evidence. Others were settled out of court, he said.

To review VFA

US Embassy custody of the alleged rapists is now the subject of a debate and one of the reasons why the Legislative Oversight Committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement will convene this morning to review the VFA.

The committee, co-chaired by Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Cebu Representative Antonio Cuenco, also invited Timoteo Soriano, the driver of the rented van where the Americans allegedly raped the college graduate from Zamboanga.

"We invited the driver as well because from his testimony -- apparently he is the only witness available -- we will have an idea how long the trial will take," Santiago said.

She noted that Legarda had expressed concern the one-year deadline for the resolution of the case stipulated in the VFA was practically impossible to meet.

"Then we'll know if there is a valid ground for the transfer to Okinawa," the senator said.

The senator herself opposed the reported request of the US Marines to be transferred to Japan while the case was pending. She said this would further inflame Filipino passions.

Santiago said that if the testimony of the driver was straightforward and credible there should be no transfer of the accused. However, the driver has not confirmed attendance at the hearing.

She said it was time the committee reviewed the VFA because of conflicting statements by Philippine officials on the custody issue.

Deliberately vague on custody

"In my view as a lawyer, the VFA is deliberately vague on custody before judgment," Santiago said. But she has warned that the Philippines can terminate the VFA if the US Marines were transferred to the US base in Japan.

She said she would ask VFA Commission Executive Director Zosimo Paredes to explain his controversial statement that nothing in the VFA required the detention of the US Marines in the country.

Santiago has said that the United States could only have custody of US personnel facing criminal charges if the Philippine government approves a formal request on this.

She says she wants to know whether the United States has made a request for custody of the Americans and if so why the Philippine government granted it.

Invited to appear in the hearing were Justice Secretary Gonzalez, Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo, Zuño, Legarda, University of the Philippines College of Law dean Salvador Carlota and noted constitutionalist Fr. Joaquin Bernas.

Also yesterday, 50 members of militant groups Akbayan and the Alliance of Progressive Labor-Women staged a lightning rally near the US Embassy in a continuing protest against the Subic incident. With reports from Cynthia D. Balana and Tina G. Santos


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