MANILA, Philippines—Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) received a dressing down from senators on Thursday for issuing “immediate’ certification of diplomatic immunity to a Panamanian, who has been accused of raping a 19-year-old Filipina.
At the start of the hearing of the Senate committee on foreign relations, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima pinned the blame on a certification issued by the DFA on April 27 for the release of Erick Bairnals Shck , a member of the technical and administrative staff of the Panama Maritime Authority, from detention in Makati.
In the April 27 certification, the DFA notified a court in Makati that the suspect was covered by the immunity from arrest and detention as provided for in the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
“Because of the certification from the DFA which is a primary agency clothed with competence and authority and expertise to make such declarations of diplomatic immunity, DOJ (Department of Justice) had no option but to withdraw the information,” de Lima said.
But DFA Undersecretary Seguis cited several provisions in the Vienna Convention which he said provide immunity to Shck from criminal jurisdiction as well as civil and administrative jurisdiction except for acts committed outside the course of official duties.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente “Tito” Sotto III, who initiated the investigation, pointed out however that the preamble of the Vienna Convention provides that such privileges and immunities are “not to benefit individuals but to ensure the efficient performance of the functions of diplomatic missions..”
“Dapat proteksyon ng kababayan ang iniintindi n’yo (You should be after the protection of our countrymen),”Sotto said.
Senator Loren Legarda, chair of the committee, agreed with Sotto.
“The intent really is to ensure the efficiency in the conduct of their official duties.. and also to make sure the laws of the state is respected. That is primordial in all in all these – that they must respect our laws and we have a law against rape,” Legarda said.
“And so in the interpretation of the Vienna declaration, the DFA should interpret it to favor the Filipino and not to favor that diplomat who has been accused of his crime,” she said.
If the DFA should have not rushed the issuance of the certification, Legarda said the suspect might still be in the country.
“Ang bagal- bagal pag humihingi tayo passport minsan pero pag sa diplomat, ang bilis naman pag certify ng immunity (The DFA is sometimes too slow when we ask for passports but with diplomats it readily certifies their immunity),” the senator lamented.
If he would follow the DFA’s interpretation of the Vienna Convention, then Sotto wondered how many diplomats in the country were “authorized” to rape Filipino women.
“How many are they? How many are these diplomatic personnel here in our country authorized to rape our women. How many are they?” he asked.