Sergei Magnitsky and Leila de Lima
In December 2003, two sons of Maj. Gen. Carlos Garcia, the Armed Forces of the Philippines comptroller, were arrested by US Customs authorities at the San Francisco International Airport for failing to declare $100,000 they were bringing in from the Philippines. Their arrest triggered events that eventually led to the court martial of Garcia. He was charged in AFP military proceedings with violation of Article of War 96, Conduct Unbecoming of An Officer and A Gentleman, and Article of War 97, Conduct Prejudicial to Good Order and Military Discipline.
Garcia was convicted for misdeclaration of his statement of assets, liabilities and net worth, and for possession of a US permanent residency permit (green card) while still in the active military service. The charges were distinct and separate from those filed by the Sandiganbayan. He was sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labor, which he served at the national penitentiary.
In 2012, the US government handed over to the Philippines the $100,000 and P430,000 confiscated from the Garcia boys in 2003. Three years later, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg turned over a check worth $1.38 million to Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales, representing the net proceeds from the sale of a Garcia condominium unit at Trump Towers in Manhattan, New York, and funds from two New York bank accounts belonging to his family.
Action by US customs authorities in San Francisco was an example of how the long and effective arm of US law enforcement has helped the Philippine government in bringing to justice Filipino criminals who were able to evade or disregard with impunity our own laws only to be caught when violating US laws. What we failed to do, the United States did for us.
When Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base were still under US control, Filipinos driving inside the two facilities made it a point to observe religiously traffic rules and regulations knowing that enforcement was strict and sanctions were swift and certain for any violation.
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In December 2012, the US Congress passed the Magnitsky Act, a bipartisan bill aimed at punishing Russian officials responsible for the death of a Russian tax accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, who died in a Moscow prison after investigating a $230-million fraud involving tax officials. After a year of imprisonment he was allegedly beaten to death while in custody. An American business friend, Bill Browder, publicized his case and lobbied with US senator Benjamin Cardin for legislation to punish Russian officials responsible for Magnitsky’s death. This included prohibiting their entrance into the United States and the use of its banking system. Eighteen Russian officials were sanctioned by the new law.
In retaliation, the Russian government denied Americans the privilege of adopting Russian children, and issued a list of 18 US officials prohibited from entering Russia. In 2016, the US Congress enacted the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act that allows the US government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world. The first implementation of this Act took place in December 2017, when the US government announced sanctions against 13 individuals described as “human rights abusers, kleptocrats, and corrupt actors.” The individuals were from Gambia and Nicaragua. In 2018, sanctions were imposed on Turkish government officials responsible for the detention of American pastor Andrew Brunson, and later on 17 Saudi Arabian officials involved in the brutal killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Recently the US Senate passed Senate Resolution No. 142, condemning the continued detention of Sen. Leila de Lima, and called for sanctions on government officials linked to her arrest and detention. The resolution also calls for sanctions on “members of the security forces and officials of the government of the Philippines responsible for extrajudicial killings.”
Malacañang has consistently stated that extrajudicial killings are not state policy and that the rule of law in this country is alive and well. The death of Sergei Magnitsky in faraway Russia could hasten the proceedings against Leila de Lima, an alleged drug dealer going by the testimonies of convicts serving time at the national penitentiary.
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