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US pressured Phl for Smith custody

MANILA, Philippines - The United States put enormous pressure on the Philippine government to regain custody of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith after his rape conviction in 2006, confidential cables released by WikiLeaks showed.

The STAR is reviewing cables released by WikiLeaks in 2011 in the light of the death of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, who was allegedly killed by Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton in Subic earlier this month.

A series of cables
supposedly sent to Washington by then US ambassador Kristie Kenney revealed the actions taken by the embassy to regain custody of Smith after he was found guilty of raping a Filipina on Dec. 4, 2006.

Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 139 Judge Benjamin Pozon ordered the detention of Smith in a Philippine jail following the guilty verdict.

But US embassy officials argued that the US could retain custody of Smith as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) provides that the custody of an accused “shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

At the time the rape conviction was being appealed before the Court of Appeals, which in 2009 overturned the guilty Verdict.

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Threat from US

Confidential cables released by WikiLeaks revealed at least two specific actions by the US embassy to pressure the government into returning Smith to their custody: the suggestion to defer the presentation of credentials of the Philippine ambassador-designate to then US President George Bush and a threat to cancel the Balikatan exercises in 2007.

In a cable dated Dec. 6, 2006, Kenney supposedly suggested to Washington to defer the presentation of credentials of then-Philippine ambassador-designate Willy Gaa in the White House “until there is a clear and satisfactory resolution of this custody issue.”

“Deferring Gaa’s credentials would not hurt larger and longer-term US interests, but would demonstrate to the Philippine government our deep concern,” read the cable.

“It will also ensure that President Bush is not photographed with the Philippine Ambassador in the Oval Office at a time when the Philippine government is holding a US Marine in custody contrary to the terms of our (VFA),” it added.

Succeeding cables dated Dec. 19 and 20 revealed the threat of the US embassy to cancel the 2007 Balikatan exercises “to reflect (their) concern about the Philippines’ lack of compliance with the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement in light of the continued detention in a Philippine jail of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.”

Arroyo gov’t sided with US

The cables further bared that then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who represents the Philippine government, sided with the US government and shared their “frustration” that the Philippine court “did not respect the clear language of the VFA.”

Smith was returned to US custody on Dec. 29, 2006 following an opinion from then Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez that the custody of Smith “rightfully belongs to the United States government pending completion of all judicial proceedings.”

 

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