Treaty troika
LOOKING ASKANCE - Joseph Gonzales () - September 6, 2009 - 12:00am

The report that Paco Larranaga will be transferred to Spain, there to serve the rest of his life term, is disturbing. It raises many complex issues, not the least of which is the seeming ability of more moneyed prisoners to engineer an escape from the clutches of Philippine authorities. 

   The fact that the prisoner to be transferred is Paco complicates the issues even further, as over the years, I have met many persons who are dead convinced of his innocence. A discussion of the issues this prisoner transfer scheme necessitates therefore a level of delicacy, to make sure that the debate isn't about Paco, but only about the inter-country transfer scheme.

   To recall, Paco Larranaga, together with a group of friends, was convicted of the kidnapping of the Chiong sisters. The sisters were kidnapped while waiting for a ride home at the Ayala mall, and supposedly violated at a rented house. The body of Marijoy Chiong was discovered, bearing evidence that she had been raped, and then pushed off a cliff while alive. Jacqueline's body, on the other hand, has never been found.   The convicted friends were then moved to Manila, there to serve their life sentences.

   Meanwhile, not many people paid attention to the treaty with Spain that the Senate ratified in 2007. This was the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement, which allows convicted prisoners to be moved from one state to the other. The conditions for the transfer to Spain seem cut and dried - all one has to do is be a national of Spain, give his consent to be flown out, and make sure no other court cases or debts owed are going to be left behind. Once these are proved, the transfer seems assured. As our acting Secretary of Justice says, the Department's role is "mechanical, clerical at best."

   The first posse of questions that comes to mind however, is what happens when a transferred prisoner gets there? Will he be able to avail of the local justice system? Will he be able to get relief from the Spanish courts and reopen the proceedings? Can a local court overturn the supposedly final sentence, and order the release of the prisoner? 

   I ask these questions for clarity. Were these questions asked by our negotiators when they were negotiating the treaty, and by our Senators when they were ratifying it? If so, what were their positions? Which side of the coin did they eventually land? In short, if these questions were asked, how were these answered? Is it clear from the treaty and the implementing rules what the Spanish authorities can or cannot do?

   (Again, I have no position on these issues when it comes to Paco. If by some twist of fate he is able to obtain a reversal of the conviction, I would rather that the debate becomes about the fallibility of human judges to err, and not about the relative merits of our judicial system versus theirs.)

   Even assuming a transferred prisoner is unable to reopen his case in Spain, whose rules would be used to determine 'good conduct' and early release? Will the Spanish penal authorities apply and administer Philippine rules? Or will they apply their own, which will be so much easier? Can the prisoner be released from jail earlier than he would be than if he were serving his sentence here? Whose rules are more 'lenient,' anyway?

   That's the second posse of questions. The third would be, assuming the Spanish authorities release the prisoner, either by overturning the conviction or by applying more lenient rules for release, is the Philippines bound to respect that release? Can the released prisoner now fly back to the Philippines, shop for some dried mangoes and go to the spa for a facial, free from threat of prosecution? Or would we be bound by the Philippine judge's decision, and mandated to re-arrest the convict?

   I have more questions, some of which are idle (like, are the jails there nicer? Are the prisoners given nice, warm clothes during winter? What's the food like?).

But never mind the disparity in penal facilities. I think once we have the answers to the troika above, that's when we can debate about the propriety or wisdom of the treaty.

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