MANILA, Philippines—Outraged senators are inquiring into the Department of Foreign Affairs’ issuance of a certification that eventually set free a Panamanian national accused of raping a Filipino woman.
“Rape would not fall under the ambit of a diplomat’s official functions,” Senator Loren Legarda said on the floor, demanding that the DFA and the Department of Justice explain if they give precedence to diplomatic immunity before the rights of the victim. She said such immunity is not absolute.
On a move by Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, the committees on foreign relations, justice and human rights are opening an inquiry into the matter next week.
Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, who referred to the Panamanian as a rapist, backed the move.
“We better look into this. Anybody raping a Filipina, even if he’s a diplomat, at least should be haled to court and answer for it,” he said.
Enrile said the DFA director for immunities and privileges who issued the certification that Erick Bairnals Shcks has diplomatic immunity “should be removed.”
Shcks was released from police detention on the basis of the DFA certification. Shcks, 35, technical officer of the Panama Maritime Authority, was facing a rape case in the Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 57. The 19-year-old alleged victim said the rape took place last April 23 at Shck’s place.
Legarda, chair of the foreign relations committee, pointed out that the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations grants immunity to diplomats, ambassadors and officials of international organizations, but this is “anchored on functional necessity,” and hence, is not absolute.
The purpose of such privilege is not to benefit individuals but to ensure the performance of a function by a diplomat, she said.
“A close reading of the Vienna Convention privilege does not provide protection and benefits for the diplomat as an individual acting outside of official task,” she said. “Diplomatic immunity can’t be absolute. It does not provide unlimited immunity to all classes of diplomats.”
Legarda said the DFA and DOJ should explain if they held the view that diplomatic immunity takes precedence over international conventions on human rights.
Sotto, in a privilege speech, said he was amazed at the speed with which a member of a foreign embassy was exonerated.
“Is it not that there are crimes that are not covered by diplomatic immunity? As a matter of fact international law has no natural superiority over local laws. Even labor laws in the United States put our ambassadors in hot water if there is an inkling that they harbor an illegal immigrant in their household,” he said.
“This is about the crime of rape, Mr. President. It is not a small matter. Are we so helpless or too kind to foreigners in grievous matters such as these? They say that diplomats enjoy certain privileges and immunities. Is rape a privilege to enjoy?” he asked.