Three criminal cases with international dimensions

Three criminal cases with international dimensions Featured

First of 3 parts

THREE high-profile cases with international implications are the backdrop for this series on Philippine politics and jurisprudence. These are not run-of-the-mill types, as they involve powerful persons. However, they are not only cautionary tales but also reflections of the kind of justice system that defines the rule of law as applied to Philippine governance.

Fugitive ex-congressman

First is the case of Negros Oriental congressman Arnolfo Teves Jr., who was involved in a ghastly crime caught on CCTV and went viral on social and mass media, exacerbated by the insipid response of government authorities. Negros Oriental Gov. Roel Degamo was murdered in broad daylight on March 2023, along with some of his people, at his residential compound. The congressman, a political rival, was accused of being behind the assassination, although he was out of the country days before Degamo's murder.

A public hearing by the Senate Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs ensued, incongruously labeling Teves a terrorist, though he has not even been charged with any crime.

The House Ethics Committee subsequently held seven closed-door hearings since the killing to tackle Teves' case but merely slapped a 60-day suspension order twice, a cavalier treatment by his colleagues, while Teves was already romping free abroad and gone AWOL, refusing to come home to face the music. Eventually, he was expelled from Congress and charged in court five months after the deed, by which time he had evaded justice and was practically allowed by the system to fly the coop.

Only a year after the murder was Teves finally arrested in Dili, Timor-Leste, while absurdly playing golf. His apprehension was a joint operation of the International Police's (Interpol) National Central Bureau (NCB) in Dili and the Timorese police. Teves was on Interpol's red notice alert, requiring member states to cooperate to collar a miscreant abroad. Teves couldn't be spirited out of Timor-Leste as he used all legal remedies to seek political asylum, which was denied. The Philippines has no extradition treaty with Timor-Leste, but both are signatories to the United Nations Convention on Transnational Organized Crime (Untoc), which could provide a framework for extradition. But a faster way was initiated by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) by canceling his passport, rendering his stay in Timor-Leste illegal and subjecting him to immediate deportation.

Fugitive 'Appointed Son of God'

The second case involves Pastor Quiboloy, who now has three arrest warrants to his name: one issued by a grandstanding Senate committee for having snubbed the chamber's investigations on his alleged sexual abuses in his ministry; one issued by a Davao court for violation of Republic Act 7610, or the Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act; and a third one by a Pasig trial court on qualified human trafficking charges. A non-bailable offense, this will bring him directly to a prison cell once apprehended.

On top of this, he is a wanted fugitive — with several other co-accused members of his church — by the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) for conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking by force, fraud, coercion, sex trafficking of children and cash smuggling.

But in all of this, Quiboloy, while in hiding, had the gall to demand from President Marcos, Justice Secretary Remulla, Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Gen. Rommel Francisco Marbil, and National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) Director Medardo de Lemos ironclad guarantees that he not be surrendered to the Americans. He has oftentimes alleged that US authorities have intentions to kidnap or kill him rather than extradite him for trial in an American court.

Quiboloy also claimed without an iota of proof that BBM had already agreed and therefore conspired with the Americans to hand him over to them once in custody, embellishing the tale further by saying that the CIA has arranged for his rendition — a process of illegal transfer, a scheme used to protect the façade of the cherished American justice system (Islamic terrorists were "renditioned" to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba for in-depth interrogation — a euphemism for waterboarding and torture).

As a repartee in a more dramatic fashion, he plays well as a deluded faux martyr; "Unless you give me the guarantee I'm looking for, go ahead and manhunt me. I will not be caught alive!" Quiboloy declared.

Of course, BBM will not oblige. And in a restrained adult response, chastising a child in a tantrum: "We will exercise all the compassion to Pastor Quiboloy; we've known him for a very long time. What I can promise is that all the proceedings will be fair."

Quiboloy's dread is similar to why South American drug lords like the Columbian Pablo Escobar fear extradition to the US. They can't buy or blow their way out of American jails. Escobar intimidated the Colombian government into agreeing to build, at his own expense, his palatial prison — exclusive to him and his cohorts in crime.

And witness the Philippines' overcrowded New Bilibid Prison, where the rich inmates live in luxurious apartment-like kubols protected by a patron or bosyo, top boss inmates with their own servants or "alalay." ("Understanding the Conditions of New Bilibid Prisons: Implications for Integrated Reforms, R.E. Narag, PhD, Southern Illinois University). The ASOG, with his resources, will thrive in such surroundings.

The US Embassy in Manila may not be so cryptic about its intentions either, stating: "For more than a decade, Apollo Quiboloy engaged in serious human rights abuses, including a pattern of systemic and pervasive rape of girls as young as 11 years old, and he is currently on the FBI's Most Wanted List. We are confident that Quiboloy will face justice for his heinous crimes." (Rappler.com, April 6, 2024)

The Deegong and the ICC

The third case involves former President Duterte Quiboloy's close friend, and now the "encargado" of his properties, who has pending cases in the International Court of Justice (ICC) on the killings of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS) while he was Davao City mayor, and the war-on-drugs killings during his term as president.

If the ICC issues an arrest warrant against Duterte — which the Deegong is sure is coming — the big question is how the Philippines can enforce such a warrant when the country is no longer a member of the ICC.

But the ICC has an agreement with Interpol (similar to ex-congressman Teves' case). The ICC can also request that the subjects of its warrant Interpol can now request that its 196 member countries cooperate and be put on the red notice alert. If that happens for Duterte, Interpol can now request its 196 member countries to cooperate and possibly arrest and detain Duterte on their behalf.

And there are precedents of notorious individuals, heads of state and political leaders accused of similar crimes, investigated by the ICC and some prosecuted: Omar al-Bashiir, president of Sudan; Laurent Gbagbo, the former president of Ivory Coast; Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, president and deputy president of Kenya; and Bosco Ntaganda, a former rebel leader in the Democratic Republic of Congo, among others.

How will all this impact the Philippine political landscape and, more importantly, our justice system and the rule of law?

(To be continued next week)

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