Tuesday, January 17, 2006

US rejects RP's demand for custody

The United States, through its embassy in Manila, rejected the demand of the Philippine government to turn over the custody of four American servicemen charged with raping a 21-year old Filipina.

In a reply to the November request by the Foreign Affairs Department, the US Embassy in Manila said they are availing of the provision in the Visiting Forces Agreement that said they could keep custody of the suspects until the end of the judicial proceedings.

"... the U.S. Government shall continue to exercise custody until completion of all judicial proceedings as provided for by Article 5, paragraph 6 of the Visiting Forces Agreement," the note verbale stated.

With this, the US has also effectively rejected the warrants of arrest issued against the four American servicemen.

Olongapo City Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni, in an interview at the Department of Justice this morning said the department would not contest the position of the U.S Embassy.

"What is more important is to ensure that justice is done for the victim," Jalandoni said.

Jalandoni added that they are looking forward to the setting of the arraignment next week, now that the issue on the custody has been laid to rest. The American government, he said, has committed to producing the suspects in at least two important instances during the trial: the arraignment and the pre-trial. After these, the suspects need not appear, he said.

In a related development, private prosecutors announced their withdrawal from the case saying their commitment was up to the preliminary investigation of the case.

Atty. June Ambrosio and her team of lawyers from the Child Justice League said however that this should not be taken to mean that the victim has waivered in her conviction to pursue the case.

"It was just special accomodation which we extended to the Department of Social Welfare and Development. The deal was to ensure that the case reaches the court. If we focus on this case alone, we might neglect other child abuse cases that we're handling," Atty. Ambrosio said.

Jalandoni said he did not mind the withdrawal but said he would appreciate it if the private prosecutors would turn over the victim to him so they could start interviewing her to prepare her for the trial.

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