US Marine in rape case should be in RP custody, SC rules

PHILIPPINE NEWS SERVICE — THE Supreme Court ruled that US Marine Daniel Smith, who was convicted of raping a Filipina, cannot legally continue to be detained at the United States embassy and must be placed in Philippine custody.

In a 20-page decision, the high court explained that under the Visiting Forces Agreement, a convicted felon must be detained by Philippine authorities.

“It is clear that the parties to the VFA recognized the difference between custody during the trial and detention after conviction, because they provided for a specific arrangement to cover detention. And this specific arrangement clearly states not only that the detention shall be carried out in facilities agreed on by authorities of both parties, but also that the detention shall be by Philippine authorities,” the SC said.

It added that the Romulo-Kennedy Agreements of December 19 and 22, 2006, a pact on the detention of Smith in the US embassy, “are not in accord with the VFA itself” because “such detention is not by Philippine authorities.”

“Respondents should therefore comply with the VFA and negotiate with representatives of the United States towards an agreement on detention facilities under Philippine authorities as mandated by the VFA,” the high court said.

In the meantime, the SC ruled that while the negotiations are being undertaken for Smith’s transfer, a “status quo” shall be observed, thus allowing the serviceman to remain in US custody.

Smith was charged along with four others with raping a Filipina he met in a bar in Subic while he was on furlough. Co-accused but subsequently cleared was Smith’s fellow Marines Chad Brian Carpentier, Dominic Duplantis, Keith Silkwood and Filipino driver Timoteo L. Soriano, Jr.

Chief Justice Reynato S. Puno and Associate Justices Antonio T. Carpio filed dissenting opinions and were joined by Justices Ma. Alicia Austria-Martinez and Conchita Carpio-Morales. Associate Justice Antonio Eduardo Nachura took no part in the ruling.

The government will abide by the high court ruling on Smith.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita gave this assurance but said the status quo will have to be maintained pending a final ruling of the SC and the result of the negotiations between Philippine and US authorities.

Ermita said this means that Smith will have to stay at the US embassy until both panels decide on a detention facility for the convicted soldier. He added that the government will have to wait for the response of the US government.

“The main point is that the VFA was upheld as constitutional,” Ermita said.

The US embassy yesterday said it has referred to Washington the decision of the Supreme Court to place Smith under the custody of Philippine authorities.

In a statement, it said “the US Embassy has taken note of the Supreme Court decision regarding the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). As it concerns important legal issues, we have referred it to United States Government legal experts in Washington.”