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thedrifter
02-06-07, 01:59 PM
Court dashes petition on Philippine-U.S. pact

By Teresa Cerojano - The Associated Press
Posted : Tuesday Feb 6, 2007 7:13:22 EST

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine Supreme Court dismissed a petition Tuesday questioning a provision of a U.S.-Philippine military pact that imposes a one-year limit on trials of U.S. personnel accused of crimes in the country.

The petition against the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement was filed in June by a Filipino woman who later won a rape case against a U.S. Marine.

The court said in its ruling that the trial of Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith had finished in less than a year, and the petition had therefore “become moot.”

“The issue of whether the obligation of the U.S. under the VFA to present the accused for trial continues even after the one-year period is now merely academic in this case, since the one-year period was not exceeded,” the court said.

But it said it will rule later on a new petition by the woman seeking Smith’s return to Philippine custody while he appeals his conviction and 40-year jail sentence.

Smith, from St. Louis, was transferred from Philippine custody to the U.S. Embassy in December without a court order, eliciting a flurry of protests from activists and opposition lawmakers.

The U.S. government had demanded Smith’s transfer to American custody and temporarily suspended annual joint military exercises until the Philippine government agreed.

The woman’s lawyer, Evalyn Ursua, urged the Supreme Court last month to strike down as unconstitutional an article in the VFA that grants the U.S. custody over American personnel until all judicial proceedings are completed, saying it subjects the court’s authority “to the will of the United States government.”

President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo backed the U.S. position and said Smith’s transfer to the embassy was necessary to avoid complications in U.S.-Philippine military relations.

Ellie