Under Section 6 of Article V (on Criminal Jurisdiction) of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the custody of a United States (US) personnel who becomes subject to criminal prosecution before a Philippine court shall be with the US military authorities, if the latter so requests. The custody shall begin from the commission of the offense until the completion of all judicial proceedings. However, when requested, the US military authorities shall make the US personnel available to Philippine authorities for any investigative or judicial proceeding relating to the offense with which the person has been charged. In the event that the Philippine judicial proceedings are not completed within one year, the US shall be relieved of any obligation under Section 6.
The constitutionality of Section 6, Article V of the VFA is challenged on two grounds: (1) it nullifies the exclusive power of the Supreme Court to adopt rules of procedure for all courts in the Philippines; and (2) it violates the equal protection clause to the extent that it allows the transfer of the custody of an accused to a foreign power as providing a different rule of procedure for that accused.
Rule on the challenge. (5%)
1) On the first ground: It is without merit. Under jurisprudence, the situation involved in the Visiting Forces Agreement on criminal jurisdiction is not one in which the power of this Court to adopt rules of procedure is curtailed or violated, but rather one in which, as is normally encountered around the world, the laws (including rules of procedure) of one State do not extend or apply – except to the extent agreed upon – to subjects of another State due to the recognition of extraterritorial immunity given to such bodies as visiting foreign armed forces.
Nothing in the Constitution prohibits such agreements recognizing immunity from jurisdiction or some aspects of jurisdiction (such as custody), in relation to long-recognized subjects of such immunity like Heads of State, diplomats and members of the armed forces contingents of a foreign State allowed to enter another State’s territory. On the contrary, the Constitution states that the Philippines adopts the generally accepted principles of international law as part of the law of the land.
2) On the second ground: It is also without merit. Under jurisprudence, the VFA provision on criminal jurisdiction does not violate equal protection. This is because there is a substantial basis for a different treatment of a member of a foreign military armed forces allowed to enter our territory and all other accused.