POSTSCRIPT / September 29, 2002 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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MJ extradition case sets scary precedents

WHO’S NEXT?: Any Filipino could suffer the same fate as Manila Rep. Mark Jimenez, whom the US wants extradited or delivered to it to face criminal charges filed belatedly against him. It just happens to be Jimenez this time. It could be you some other time.

If you’re residing in the Philippines and for some reason somebody files criminal charges against you in an American court, the US government can invoke an extradition treaty and request the Philippine government to arrest and deliver you to the US for trial.

The Philippine government is expected to accede to the US request. As in the Jimenez case, it will try to clap you in jail without benefit of bail while you question before a local court the justice of the procedure stripping you of your Bill of Rights.

The Constitution no less grants you equal protection of the laws, right to bail and the presumption of innocence.

But in carrying out the preliminary steps leading to extradition, the government — as in the Jimenez case — will treat you differently from other persons accused in local criminal proceedings.

Is this right? Is it just? Is an extradition treaty superior to our Constitution? Is a treaty enough justification to ignore the Bill of Rights?

These are some of the questions likely to crop up when the House of Representatives opens this coming week its public inquiry into the Jimenez case and related issues. Among the committees set to delve into the matter is that on foreign relations headed by Rep. Jose Apolinario Lozada Jr. of Negros Occidental.

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MJ A FUGITIVE?: There is a misimpression, fanned by inaccurate media reports, that Jimenez escaped from the clutches of authorities after he was brought before a US court to face various charges. He is recklessly labeled in media as a “fugitive.”

We have checked and found that Jimenez (aka Mario Batacan Crespo) last departed from the US in April 1997. There were no charges then. He went on his usual business trips to some countries and finally arrived in the Philippines in May 1998. There were no charges when he arrived here.

In April 1999, after almost a year after he came home, some charges were filed against him in Florida. Warrants for his arrest were issued a month later, in May 1999.

The Americans had all the time to file charges against him when he was still in the US, but did not. They finally filed suit when he was already out of the US — then tagged him a fugitive just because they are now able to produce warrants.

An unsuspecting reader would think the congressman had bolted jail or jumped bail in the US and a posse is now after the fugitive. Most of media and their audience gloss over the fact that the man has not been arraigned and no competent US court has taken jurisdiction over his person.

We take interest in this story mainly because, being a leading case, it will set precedents. What the system will apply on Jimenez will likely be applied on those who will come after him.

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LOPEZ UNDER DURESS: Don Eugenio Lopez, patriarch of the family that controls the Manila Electric Co. (Meralco), actually begged then President Marcos to please take over Meralco and signed it away virtually for a song?

This is the incredible scenario being peddled by former Sen. Juan Ponce Enrile, who claims to have the Lopez letters showing that they freely and even gladly gave up prized family possessions to save the business that was then, he said, into dire straits.

Most people do not believe this story being told by one of the key enforcers of Marcosian martial law.

Sure, Lopez — then suffering from terminal cancer in exile in California — signed those letters being shown around town by Enrile, but he did so under extreme duress. It was to buy the freedom of his eldest son and namesake.

As a parent, we can understand the elder Lopez’s frame of mind. We imagine that the life of his son languishing in a high-security Marcos jail was more important than Meralco and the rest of the family heirloom.

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MCCOY RECALLS PRESSURE: To give readers a better insight into the Lopez mind at the time, we quote excerpts from the book “An Anarchy of Families” edited by Alfred W. McCoy, published by Ateneo de Manila University Press in 1994.

The book presents the saga of eight prominent Philippine clans, Lopez among them. The Lopez chapter, titled “Rent-seeking families and the Philippine state — A history of the Lopezes family,” was written by the editor himself.

While the chapter on the Lopezes is generally unflattering, McCoy — a historian out of Yale University best remembered for his book on the drug trade in Southeast Asia (“The Politics of Heroin”) — gave a factual account of the Meralco sale. The sale, as told in the book:

In November 1972, Marcos employed a master stroke in the expropriation of Meralco when he used his martial-law powers to imprison Geny Lopez, Don Eugenio’s eldest son. In the words of Oscar Lopez: “Geny freedom was constantly dangled by Kokoy Romualdez before my father as the ultimate prize for accomplishing everything the Marcoses wanted from him.”

Although Eugenio had bested Marcos in their earlier battle, he was now forced to submit to the president’s every demand. With Geny in custody to force compliance, Marcos used the full resources of the state to break the Lopez hold over Meralco, step by step. Through a series of legalistic maneuvers, Marcos gained control over a Lopez company with US $5.7 million in assets for a cash outlay of only $1,500.

Despite broad hints that Geny Lopez would be freed once the Meralco matter was settled, Marcos did not release him even after Eugenio had signed over the company. When doctors diagnosed his cancer as terminal in early 1974, Eugenio, by this time exiled in San Francisco, California, contacted Marcos through intermediaries to request a final visit with his son.

Capricious and cruel towards his former rival, Marcos summoned the dying man to Manila and then refused him a visit with his son. Already emaciated, and extremely pale, Eugenio met with relatives in Manila and made a few public appearances in Iloilo, where he dedicated a hospital to his father’s memory, before returning to San Francisco.

Apparently “losing hope that he would be freed,” Geny launched a 10-day hunger strike in November. With the opposition to Marcos still weak, Manila’s Archbishop Jaime Sin, recently appointed to this post from the Lopez’s home dioceses of Jaro, was the only national figure who supported Geny. “We cannot jail a man indefinitely and still call ourselves Christian,” said Sin in an impassioned defense of his parishioner.

Despite Archbishop Sin’s support and international press coverage, Marcos responded to Geny Lopez’s hunger strike with characteristic cunning. Disturbed by the critical international coverage, Marcos delegated Defense Secretary Juan Ponce Enrile to negotiate with the Lopezes.

After the secretary dangled the promise of a quick release once the hunger strike ended, Geny broke his fast on 28 November. A week later, however, Marcos announced that the Lopez heir would be tried in civil court for a capital crime — plotting to assassinate the president with an international team of hired killers.

Realizing that “the promise of Geny’s release from prison was a hoax,” Eugenio then broke his silence with two newspaper interviews given in the United States. On 2 January 1975, Eugenio responded to an interviewer’s question about his agreement to sell Meralco to the Marcos-controlled Meralco Foundation:

“I had agreed with Governor [Kokoy] Romualdez that he could take over all of the assets of Benpres [holding company] at no cost in exchange for the freedom of my son and the safety of the rest of my family.”

Three weeks later, he started that “the so-called (Meralco) ‘Foundation’ is just a front of the Marcos-Romualdez business interest.”

Eugenio’s attacks apparently stirred Marcos, for on 24 January he summoned Fernando and Oscar Lopez to the Palace. In the course of two long meetings, he offered to place Geny under house arrest if Fernando and Geny would sign a letter accepting confiscation of their properties, endorse martial law, and admit their involvement in the alleged assassination plot.

Geny refused to endorse martial law and the negotiations collapsed.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 29, 2002)

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