Senators to DFA: Why let Panamanian rape suspect go?

Rappler.com
Department of Foreign Affairs officials defend their position, saying that the Vienna Convention grants Erick Shcks diplomatic immunity

WHAT NOW? Sen Sotto presents rape victim 'Pamela' in a press conference with her lawyer. File photo from Senate website.

MANILA, Philippines – A diplomat rapes a Filipina and then good-bye?  

Senators Loren Legarda and Vicente “Tito” Sotto III took the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and Department of Justice to task for the flight of a Panamanian diplomat accused of raping a Filipina.

In a hearing on Thursday, May 17, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee slammed the DFA’s position that suspect Erick Shcks is covered by diplomatic immunity.

DFA officials argued that Shcks, a technical officer of the Panama Maritime Authority, enjoys immunity from criminal cases under the Vienna Convention.

“I will not accept that,” said Legarda. “If we will make Shcks an example, then any diplomat, any ambassador or consul can rape a Filipina and all you can do is [to] declare them persona non grata.”

The DFA declared Shcks persona non grata (unwelcome person) for allegedly raping a 19-year-old Filipina identified only as “Pamela” last April. She was present in the hearing, along with her lawyers.

Shcks left the Philippines on Friday, May 11. He was able to flee because he was not on the government’s watch list.

Immune from what?

Senators said diplomatic immunity should not be used as an excuse to violate local laws.

Legarda, who chairs the committee, explained her interpretation of the Vienna Convention.

“Another aspect is to make sure the law of the receiving state is respected. [Diplomats] must respect our laws and we have a law against rape.”

Sotto, who has been vocal about the issue, was outraged with Shcks’ flight.

“We should not have allowed him to go! International law has no natural superiority over local law.”

DFA officials however defended their decision to issue a certification that led to the withdrawal of the case against Schks. They explained that the Vienna Convention grants Shcks immunity. 

DFA Assistant Secretary Patricia Paez from the Office of American Affairs said, “The limitation on immunity is only for civil and administrative cases.”

Paez also pointed out that unlike countries like Cambodia, Morocco and Egypt, the Philippines did not question provisions in the Vienna Convention granting diplomatic immunity from criminal cases.

Will Panama waive immunity?

Even with Shcks gone, Foreign Undersecretary Rafael Seguis said the DFA is aking the Panamanian embassy to waive his diplomatic immunity.

The DFA also sent the embassy a note verbale to investigate Shcks.

“They just want to be assured that the Department of Justice would conduct another preliminary investigation, that during the investigation, Mr Shcks would remain under the custody of the ambassador, and that he would be assured of a speedy and fair trial.”

The Commission on Human Rights disagreed with the DFA. Commissioner Maria Victoria Cardona said the Department should have first asked the embassy for a waiver instead of issuing a certification of diplomatic immunity.

“They should have been more protective and not too legalistic about this thing.”

Sotto vs De Lima

Sotto was also unconvinced. “How many are they, these diplomatic personnel now in this country who are authorized to rape our women?”

The senator asked Justice Secretary Leila de Lima to explain why she let Schks go. Sotto has said that the issue may affect De Lima’s confirmation in the Commission of Appointments.

Yet De Lima stood her ground, saying she was unable to issue a watch list order on Schks because of a Supreme Court  temporary restraining order. The order questioned her power to issue watch list orders stemming from the case of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

De Lima said her department acted according to the position of the DFA.

“Assuming that their certification on their accreditation of Mr Shcks as a member of the administrative and technical staff of the Panama mission is accurate, then I would agree totally with the DFA that he is covered by immunity from criminal jurisdiction,” De Lima said. – Rappler.com

 

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