POSTSCRIPT / October 16, 2014 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Opinion Columnist

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On VFA, Miriam talks more sense than gov’t

LISTEN TO HER: Some high government officials develop a headache whenever they attempt to think, because thinking reportedly interferes with their normal mental processes.

To save time and spare them the pain, we suggest that in the crafting of bilateral contracts governing the status of American forces operating from military bases in this former US colony, our government just entrust the entire matter to Sen. Miriam Santiago.

Santiago has it all figured out to the last legal detail, including the thorny question of who and where to detain the American marine suspected of having killed his transgender date when he was on liberty last Sunday in Olongapo.

As to whether or not the Visiting Forces Agreement being invoked in the transgender’s death is constitutional, we can be guided by the legal opinion of Santiago that it is not — then move to renegotiate it or, failing that, to move to abrogate it.

* * *

VFA NOT A TREATY: My own opinion is that it is better for us to have US forces stationed on Philippine bases, but under a treaty duly ratified by the Senates of both the US and the Philippines as required by the Constitution.

On the recurring sore point of criminal jurisdiction, Philippine courts should take primary and exclusive jurisdiction when a foreigner, except one clothed with diplomatic immunity, commits a crime under Philippine laws on Philippine soil against a Filipino. By taking jurisdiction, the court will determine where and how to detain the foreigner while his case pends.

The 16-year-old VFA being invoked is not a treaty and has not been ratified by the US Senate.

Under the premises, I submit that we adopt Santiago’s view that the VFA is unconstitutional and therefore inapplicable. Since the scanty 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty has no provision on criminal jurisdiction, local laws will apply on the erring foreigner.

* * *

DISPARITY: Santiago points to the VFA’s onerous paragraph 6, Article 5, that says: “The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

The same paragraph says: “In extraordinary cases, the Philippine government shall present its position to the United States government regarding custody, which the United States government shall take into full account.”

“The disparity is very clear,” she notes. “The Philippines has jurisdiction but upon mere request by the US, our law enforcement is required to immediately turn over the custody of the American military personnel to the US.”

Should the Philippine government consider the crime to be an extraordinary case and request custody, the US is required only to take the Philippine position “into full account.”

* * *

STRAIGHT PATH: In the latest Pulse Asia survey regarding President Noynoy Aquino’s promise of a straight path (tuwid na daan), the question was not as simple as it may sound. The responses and their sense could then be misinterpreted.

Respondents were asked if they agreed or disagreed that President Aquino has fulfilled his promise to follow a straight path. In Filipino: Natupad (o hindi) ni Presidente Aquino ang kanyang pangako na sumunod o tumahak sa tuwid na daan?

The summary result reported was that 36 percent of Filipinos believe the President failed to fulfill his promise to follow a straight path while 29 percent think he did. The remaining 34 percent were undecided.

* * *

PERSONAL INTEGRITY: I was not among the respondents, but if asked if I would agree that President Aquino has kept his promise, I would reply with a qualified Yes.

Now that requires an explanation. The question is if the President has followed the straight path. I take the straightness to refer to his personal integrity, not to the people around him. There is a difference.

I have written nasty things about his administration, but I still believe that despite his being unprepared for the awesome job, Noynoy Aquino has remained honest. I still have to see a clear case of his having stolen from the public coffers.

I am responding to the question not in the context of competence or brilliance, but of tuwid na daan honesty. I think despite the temptations and the scheming thieves around him, Noynoy Aquino has stayed relatively clean.

* * *

SABIT SIYA!: That does not mean that I absolve the President of responsibility for the big-time corruption still rampant in government. As Chief Executive, he is responsible.

So when Budget Secretary Florencio Abad — called an Evil Genius by Joker Arroyo, the former executive secretary of the late President Cory Aquino – inveigled the President into signing Disbursement Acceleration Program papers and he did, sabit siya!

President Aquino may be honest, but when for instance he allows corrupt officials to mismanage the Metro Rail Transit Line-3, he cannot escape responsibility for the 550,000 daily commuters who put their lives on the line every time they ride the decrepit MRT trains.

He may be a straight shooter, but when the President coddles crooked generals, including those who have no qualms taking millions in the guise of donations, command responsibility says he has to answer for his men.

But then, the survey question as I understood it refers to his personal integrity and not the honesty of the crowd around him.

* * *

PERCEPTION: The President has the Herculean job of cleaning the Augean stables. It is not enough that he is clean. He and the officials taking orders from him should also look and smell clean. Perception is the name of the game.

The survey question did not refer to corrupt officials of past administrations. If I understood it right, Pulse Asia was asking about corruption in the current regime.

One problem of President Aquino is that the public will not distinguish between him and his subordinates. He cannot be perceived as clean while there is corruption in his Cabinet.

He has less than two years to go in his term. The President should crack down on the big crooks around him giving him a black mark by association.

If one of your eyes leads you to perdition, pluck it out and cast it into hell fire. Fast!

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 16, 2014)

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