Santiago says Panama envoy should be declared ‘non grata’, too
MANILA, Philippines—The Department of Foreign Affairs should think about declaring persona non grata not only a Panamanian diplomat who left the country Friday night despite a rape charge against him but also the Panamanian ambassador himself, Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said Saturday.
Santiago said the Panama Embassy’s insistence that alleged rapist Erick Bairnals Shcks had diplomatic immunity was an “unfriendly act” toward the Philippines. She said Shcks was a mere technical officer whose job did not constitute that of a diplomat.
“Panama is showing it does not consider us as a friend. Maybe it should be time for the DFA to call the Panamanian ambassador to the DFA office and ask him to explain this. Maybe the DFA and Malacañang can consider whether we should declare both the suspect and the ambassador as persona non grata,” she said by phone.
The embassy would have shown good faith if it granted Philippine jurisdiction over Shcks, who is accused of a private crime, Santiago said.
Ambassador Roberto Carlos Vallarino and Shcks departed together on a KLM flight to Amsterdam after quietly checking into the airport Friday night, airport officials said.
The foreign office issued a press statement Saturday saying Shcks had been declared persona non grata.
Shcks was accused of raping a Filipino woman in his apartment in Makati City on April 23, days after befriending her.
The victim had gone to the Department of Justice to seek help, but Justice Secretary Leila de Lima confirmed that Shcks, a technical officer of the Panama Maritime Authority and a diplomatic passport holder, was covered by immunity under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.
Santiago acknowledged that Philippine officials could not go beyond the certification of the status of the suspect but said the matter of whether Shcks was a diplomat was vague.
“He’s just a mere technical consultant not performing diplomatic functions. This person is in a gray area,” she said. “There’s no showing that he belongs to the office of the ambassador. He’s not even attached to the consulate general. He’s a technical consultant.”
The senator said the government could request that the diplomatic immunity be waived, but extraditing Shcks to Manila could result in a “bureaucratic upheaval.”
The next best thing is for the DFA to summon the Panamanian ambassador to explain the matter.
The Senate committees on foreign relations, justice and human rights are opening an inquiry into the issuance of the certification.
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