POSTSCRIPT / February 22, 2009 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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DFA, US embassy drag their feet on VFA

CLARK FIELD The Department of Foreign Affairs is conniving with the United States embassy in flouting the Supreme Court order to “forthwith negotiate” — meaning immediately — the transfer to a local prison of a US Marine convicted of rape.

The American embassy has told the DFA that it was still awaiting advice from its lawyers in far-away Washington, DC. By force of habit, the DFA nodded its assent like a servant acceding to her master.

Foreign Secretary Alberto G. Romulo’s supine position vis-à-vis US Ambassador Kristie A. Kenney is an insult not only to his person and office but also to the proud people he represents.

This pathetic posture of the foreign secretary — a reflection of that of his principal the President — explains why at this late date we are still treated like a colony of a neo-imperial power.

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R.P. CONTROL: In its 9-4-2 (Yes, No, Inhibit) decision early this month, the Supreme Court said the Romulo-Kenney agreements that allowed the American rapist’s serving time at the US embassy violated the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement itself.

The High Court cited Article V, Section 10, of the VFA which provides that the confinement or detention by Philippine authorities (emphasis supplied) of the accused/convicted US personnel shall be carried out in facilities mutually agreed on.

The tribunal regarded the US embassy, clothed by extraterritoriality, as not Philippine premises under full Filipino control as envisioned by the VFA, even if local authorities are allowed to check periodically on the convict.

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RECIPROCITY: The VFA came after the fact. It was negotiated and signed while US forces were already in the country. It served as a deodorant to the obnoxious presence of foreign troops not yet covered by a treaty as required by the Constitution.

The anomaly, actually a slur on Philippine sovereignty, was the fault of the Philippine officials whose duty it was/is to protect national interests.

In their hurry to cover up their treasonous neglect, Philippine negotiators forgot many time-honored principles governing bilateral relations. Some of them are reciprocity and mutual respect.

Under VFA-2, the counterpart agreement treating on Filipino military personnel in the US, would a Pinoy soldier convicted of raping an American lass in the US be allowed to stay at the Philippine embassy in Washington, DC? No way!

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RIGHT TO REPLY: Many sectors in and out of media — Postscript included — have warned against an insidious campaign in Congress to pass a “Right to Reply” bill that would emasculate freedom of the press and of expression enshrined in the Constitution.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is passing around for signature and support this unified statement of opposition to the measure:

THE RIGHT to Reply Bill is an ill-conceived piece of legislation that violates two of the most cherished freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, those of the press and of expression.

It is both unfortunate and ironic that the principal authors of the bill in the two chambers of Congress ought to have known better, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. having earned his reputation as a champion of civil rights and Bacolod Rep. Monico Puentevella having been president of the Negros Press Club.

It is also clear, from the pronouncements of both lawmakers, that this bill is a product of the sorriest excuse for legislation — personal pique.  

The House version of the bill, HB 3306, parrots the Senate’s SB 2150 except it would have the reply run a day after receipt instead of the three days the Senate grants, and seeks to impose heftier fines and the absence of self-regulation (in the case of block-timers) and sunset clauses.

Both bills state that “all persons… who are accused directly or indirectly of committing, having committed or intending to commit any crime or offense defined by law, or are criticized by innuendo, suggestion or rumor for any lapse in behavior in public or private life shall have the right to reply to charges or criticisms published or printed in newspapers, magazines, newsletters or publications circulated commercially or for free, or aired or broadcast over radio, television, websites, or through any electronic devices.”

They also would mandate that these replies be “published or broadcast in the same space of the newspapers, magazine, newsletter or publication, or aired over the same program on radio, television, website or through any electronic device.”

The danger in the right to reply bill is that it would legislate what the media ought to publish or air, while casting a chilling effect that could dissuade the more timorous from publishing or airing what they should.

The bills would free public officials, especially the corrupt — and they are legion — of accountability and give them carte blanche to force their lies on the suffering public.

We would be the last to say that the Philippine media are without fault. Yes, we understand perfectly the frustration and anger of Pimentel and Puentevella over some media outlet’s refusal to air their sides on issues.

Alas, but we cannot allow the sins of the few to be an excuse for the wholesale muzzling of a free press and the suppression of free expression. To do so would allow bad governance to triumph.

We call on Senator Pimentel and Representative Puentevella to withdraw their bills.

We urge the media and the people to close ranks against the passage of this bill, to challenge it before the Supreme Court if it is passed, and, if even that fails, to defy it by refusing to comply.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of February 22, 2009)

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