Sergei Magnitsky and Bato dela Rosa
My last column was on Sergei Magnitsky and Leila de Lima. Some friends checked in to say that they thought Magnitsky was a US senator. Perhaps, for the benefit of others who are not familiar with Magnitsky, let me restate some of the information I mentioned about him.
Sergei Magnitsky was a Russian tax accountant who was investigating a $230-million fraud involving tax officials. He was arrested and imprisoned in Moscow where he was allegedly beaten to death while in custody. An American businessman and friend, Bill Browder, publicized his case and lobbied with US Sen. Benjamin Cardin for legislation to punish Russian officials responsible for Magnitsky’s death.
In 2016, the US Congress enacted the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, allowing the US government to sanction foreign government officials implicated in human rights abuses anywhere in the world. So far, some 70 individuals from over a dozen countries have been identified and barred from entering the United States and using its banking system. In addition, their US assets have been frozen. Last week, the US visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa, the first Philippine National Police chief of this administration, was canceled. As is normally the case, no reason was given. We must assume the action taken was in connection with his role in the bloody war on drugs. Malacañang has consistently stated that extrajudicial killings are not state policy.
As a result of the visa cancellation, President Duterte has set in motion termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Briefly, the VFA allows the US government to retain jurisdiction over its military personnel accused of committing crimes in the Philippines, unless the crimes are “of particular importance to the Philippines.” It also exempts US military personnel from Philippine visa and passport regulations. The VFA applies to troops who are in the country on a temporary basis.
In October 2016 during a visit to Vietnam, the President announced before the Filipino community that he was ending joint military exercises with US forces. He said that Phiblex 33 (Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise 33) would be the last. “Balikatan” exercises continue to this day.
—————May I greet Lt. Gen. Allen Paredes on his recent assumption as the 37th commanding general of the Philippine Air Force. The new chief is a member of Philippine Military Academy Class 1988, graduating No. 8 in his batch. Eight must be his favorite number. In 1986, when I was head of the Air Force, Paredes was still a second class cadet at the PMA. During the first year of the Duterte administration, Paredes was commander of the Presidential Airlift Wing, and flew the President on many occasions. Upon relinquishment of his post, the outgoing PAF commander, Lt. Gen. Rozzano Briguez, was immediately appointed head of the PNOC–Exploration Department, adding to the growing list of retired military officers who have been taken into civil government upon leaving the service.
For most of us, reaching 80 is an achievement but in the case of Maj. Gen. Jose Magno Jr., age is just a number as he marked his 90th birthday yesterday. When I was a student at UP High in Diliman, Quezon City, we used to watch ROTC cadets preparing for silent drill competition among ROTC units in Metro Manila. One of the notable UP ROTC officers in those days was Cadet Jose Magno Jr. He would be commissioned as second lieutenant in 1952, just as I was entering the PMA. Joe would rise through the ranks, becoming commander of the Southern Command, the premier area command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and later, national security adviser to President Cory Aquino. He was the role model for many officers who joined the AFP through the ROTC program. President Fidel Ramos appointed him chair of the Government Service Insurance System. But he is most proud of his work as chair of the Pangasinan Economic Development Foundation providing assistance and support to his hometown Pozorrubio, and to the province in general.
Today, Joe Magno remains active in public life, serving as chair of the Philippine Veterans’ Affairs Office; and vice chair of the Citra Metro Manila Tollways Corp., a joint venture of an Indonesian firm and the Philippine National Construction Corp.
Nilo Peña of Quasha Law, is celebrating his 83rd birthday today. He is better known as the grandfather of Carlo Peña, a gold medalist in jiu-jitsu during the recent Southeast Asian Games.
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