It is just about time that the Supreme Court decided on the legality of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith’s detention at the US Embassy, following his conviction for the Subic Rape Case. Many sectors have complained about the special treatment given to Smith despite his conviction. It is clear in the Visiting Forces Agreement that detention should be under Philippine jurisdiction. And yes, the VFA aside, simple common sense would dictate that a criminal convicted on Philippine soil should be under the jurisdiction of Philippine authorities — unless, of course, the Court of Appeals or the Supreme Court would eventually overturn his conviction and set him free.
I am concerned, however, with the language used by the Supreme Court and its implications. The SC has ordered the Department of Foreign Affairs to “negotiate” with the US Embassy for the proper arrangements regarding Smith’s detention.
Both the Philippines and the US signed the agreement. There is no need to negotiate. And I certainly hope that the Philippines will not beg for Smith’s transfer from the US Embassy to a Philippine jail. The challenge for the government is to assert the provisions of the agreement, while the challenge for the US is to honor the agreement. The question now is: what happens if the US does not wish to honor it?
At the very least, if we are to talk about negotiation, the initiative should come from the US, and not the Philippines. Otherwise, the government gives the impression that it is not asserting its very own sovereignty.
Still, I would understand if there is a need to negotiate. The whole world knows that our detention facilities are not exactly humane. But still, as a criminal, the issue of nationality should not be an issue. Daniel Smith is just the same criminal (unless proven otherwise later on) as the rest of the convicts at the New Bilibid Prison. To give him special treatment would be unfair to other Pinoy convicts, who would now appear to be paying more for their crimes in the very same country, under the very same set of laws.
What is in order is for the government not to negotiate or worse, beg for his transfer. What is in order is for the government to simply assure the US that authorities here will do their best to accord this high profile convict the proper safety while in prison. Otherwise, we would be begging for our sovereignty.
So, who will step up?