Editorial

Pushover

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Stories of police bungling criminal cases either through negligence, incompetence or plain collusion with lowlifes are nothing new in these parts. But here’s an unusual police story—one that has a happy ending. A 19-year-old girl reported to the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group that a 35-year-old foreigner had raped her. He befriended her a few days earlier, then invited her over to his place. There, according to the girl, she was made to sniff a “marijuana-like substance,” which rendered her almost unconscious. The foreigner then had his way with her.

“I was deceived, coerced and forced into a situation of my own dislike,” the girl said in a statement. After the alleged rape, she went to her grandmother’s house and, together, they proceeded to the Makati Medical Center for examination. “The medico-legal there advised us to go to Camp Crame to report the crime,” added the girl. “We arrived at the CIDG at around 2 a.m. where I was processed medically and my statement taken. We finished the procedures by 9 a.m. and the police … went with us to arrest the guy.”

Details are important in this story’s retelling because they reveal the nature of the police’s response to the girl’s plight. The alleged rape occurred at 11 p.m. on April 23. The girl reported the crime to the CIDG at 2 a.m. on April 24, and only about seven or eight hours later, the cops had the foreigner in custody, nabbed while he was having breakfast at a McDonald’s in Makati. Formal charges were then filed against him in a Makati court.

In other words, the police did a creditable job in handling the matter with thoroughness and dispatch. The swift processing of the case and the apprehension of the suspect constitute a feather in the cops’ collective hat. A happy ending,no ifs and buts about it. As Supt. Emma Libunao, head of the CIDG’s Women and Children’s Protection Division that handled the case, put it: “As far as we are concerned, we did everything to pursue the case. We launched a hot pursuit against the suspect. We took him into custody. We filed the case. We were not remiss in our duties.”

But why the note of defensiveness in Libunao’s words? She has good reason for it. Turns out the police couldn’t hold the foreign suspect because he was purportedly covered by diplomatic immunity. Erick Bairnals Shcks, said to be a technical officer of the Panama Maritime Authority, had to be released from custody on the strength of an order from Judge Honorio Guanlao of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 57. Guanlao relied on a certification from the Department of Foreign Affairs that Shcks was in fact protected by diplomatic immunity and could not be charged with a crime.

The certification was the second that the DFA had issued on the matter. Despite the early intercession of the Panamanian ambassador to have Shcks released, the DFA had originally said that while he worked for the Panamanian embassy and held a diplomatic passport, he did not enjoy immunity, and therefore would have to spend time in a Philippine jail. That stance, however, crumbled only a few days later with the DFA’s second certification, which led the judge to order not only Shcks’ release but also the withdrawal of the case against him. Baffled and frustrated, the police could only comply. The happy ending was not for long—hence, Libunao’s aggrieved words.

What happened in the interim between the first and second certifications from the DFA? What additional information on Shcks did it find that allowed the sudden change in his diplomatic status? What pressure, if any, did the Panamanian government exert on the DFA to have one of its citizens receive a seemingly flagrant exemption from Philippine criminal laws?

A clear and thorough explanation from the government is in order here. For far too long, foreign nationals have managed to get away with criminal acts in the Philippines because of its excessive deference to other countries’ blandishments. The case of American Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, who was convicted of raping a Filipino woman at the Subic Bay Freeport yet was eventually spirited out of the country, is only the most egregious recent example. Shcks’ case sounds alarmingly of the same mold: a clear-cut criminal offense backed by plausible evidence, yet the ends of justice are perverted by the suspect eluding punishment on the basis of a technicality that thwarts local law.

When will this country begin impressing on foreign visitors and their governments that Philippine law is no pushover in its own land? Or is it?

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