Two Ambassadors figured in the news recently. The first is the Ambassador of the Czech Republic to the country. Josef Rychtar, who claims that MRT General Manager Vitangcol and others attempted to extract a 30 Million dollar bribe from a Czech company for the supply of additional rolling cars for the MRT. This supposed bribery became even more controversial because earlier reports claimed that Presidential sister Balsy Cruz was part of the company that attempted to extort the bribe. The Ambassador has since clarified that Balsy was not involved although he stood firm about Vitangcol and Company.
The other is Italian Ambassador to Turkmenistan Daniele Bosio. He was nabbed by police authorities in Laguna allegedly for child trafficking, In both these cases, issues of immunity have arisen. In the case of Rychtar, the issue is if he can be summoned to appear before a Committee of Congress investigating the bribery try; while in the case of Bosio, it is whether he can be investigated, prosecuted and convicting for child trafficking.
A diplomat’s sovereign immunity from local jurisdiction has been amongst the earliest cornerstone of diplomacy. While this immunity is now codified in the Vienna Convention of Diplomatic Relations, which the Philippines has ratified, it has also been recognized under customary international law. This means that this immunity is not just a matter of treaty obligation. It is recognized and complied even by countries that have not ratified the Convention. This is because without this immunity, Ambassadors, who serve as alter-ego’s of sovereigns and heads of states, will not be able to perform their functions in the territory of receiving states. More often than not, Ambassadors function to protect the interest of their states in the receiving state and even to gather information which otherwise would be considered as espionage.
This immunity exists immediately upon a diplomat’s presentation of his credentials in his station and subsists for a reasonable time upon expiration of his tour of duty. This immunity is accorded him while he is posted in his station and subsists for all of his official acts even after he leaves his post.
Under the current state of international law, the Czech Ambassador’s immunity includes the immunity to heed a subpoena that may be issued for him to appear before any committee hearing of Congress. And when he does appear, which is a waiver of his immunity, it will include additionally, immunity for all matters that he states in the official proceedings, including prosecution for false testimony, unless he again waives his sovereign immunity. The latter though, being contrary to human experience, would be highly unlikely.
Ambassador Bosio himself would be entitled to full immunity from local jurisdiction had he been apprehended in his station in Turkmenistan, or when he was officially en route to his official post. But because he was apprehended in the company of very young boys while vacationing in the Philippines, his predicament has figured repeatedly in many bar exam questions in political law: he is not entitled and should not be accorded immunity from our power to investigate, prosecute him and punish him for child trafficking.
The rationale for Bosio’s predicament is immunity is not indispensible to a vacationing envoy since he is not in the discharge of his official functions.
But beyond the issue of immunity for both envoys, there is also the issue of how our officials have been responding to the issues created by these envoys.
In the case of Rychtar, Presidential bad mouth Lacierda has shown his usual foul character by bashing the credibility of the Ambassador saying that the enjoy was merely” sour grapping since the Czechs lost the bid” for additional rolling cars to a Chinese company. Huh? As my students would say: WTF!
All Ambassadors because of their immunities and function are normally the best civil servants of the sending state. Their characters hence are beyond question, Furthermore, the fact that the Philippines as the receiving state had consented to the appointment of Rychter through an agreement (not wrong spelling) means that we have recognized that he is fit for the post which commands utmost respect in all civilized societies. By bashing the character of the Czech envoy, Lacierda shows anew his ignorance of international law and highlights what many foreign investors have been complaining about this country: rampant systemic corruption conducted with impunity.
Any sane spokesperson would not question the character of an Ambassador. instead, where there is an allegation of bribery, a responsible competent authority would promise a transparent and earnest investigation of the matter. This is how a state inspires confidence amongst foreign investors. Lacierda’s ways is why we might be hailed to court for the third time by a foreign investor. The first two instances, ironically, also involved allegations of bribery: the T3 controversy with Fraport and the Belgian dredging contract in Laguna Lake.
Anent Bosio, while I commend our authorities for upholding our sovereignty when they arrested the Italian envoy for child trafficking, I’m afraid it’s too early to tell if they will continue to do so. Chances are, in the same manner that the murderers behind the Ampatuan massacre, and the suspects behind the killings of Gerry Ortega and the many murdered journalists continue to roam free, my bet is that his Excellency Mr. Bosio may soon be allowed to roam free again. Hopefully though, he would no longer be in pursuit of Filipino boys.