MANILA — Justice Secretary Leila de Lima on Wednesday said the limited involvement of the United States in the January 25 secret police mission to get two wanted international terrorists holed up in Mamasapano was covered by existing bilateral agreements and did not transgress Philippine sovereignty.
Appearing at the House joint probe into the Mamasapano incident, De Lima also pointed out that the U.S. participation, which was limited to intelligence sharing and medical evacuation of wounded Special Action Force commandos, was well within the bounds of the Constitution.
“The bottom line always is the ability of the Philippine government to determine the extent of U.S. involvement and the full exercise of its control in making the decisions as to what, who, when and how of a particular operation,” De Lima told lawmakers.
“So long as these considerations are met and absolute Philippine control is exercised all throughout, there can be no argument that U.S. involvement has transgressed any of the constitutional and legal boundaries on foreign participation in Philippine military and law enforcement activities under the facts so far established in any of the investigations,” she said.
De Lima said the presence of the American troops in Mindanao was covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) with the U.S.
“Foreign affairs is the primary jurisdiction and core competence of the executive branch of government and therefore the President, as Chief Executive, may enter into agreements that do not need concurrence of the Senate as treaties for purposes of enhancing international cooperation in global law enforcement, specifically against terrorist threats and especially if such threats find sanctuary through the back doors of the country’s largely unguarded coastal frontiers like Mindanao,” she pointed out.
The DOJ chief also cited the 2002 Supreme Court ruling in Lim vs. Executive Secretary which, she said, “painted the allowable activities for joint military cooperation in broad strokes.”
“It states that the VFA contains no enumeration or limitation of what activities would be covered by the (agreement) and provides only the broad limitations that must be approved by the Philippine government and that they must not be inconsistent with the spirit of the agreement, which is cooperation,” De Lima said.
In the same hearing, De Lima insisted that President Benigno Aquino III is not covered by the chain of command within the Philippine National Police (PNP).
“In my reading of the Constitution and law, the principle of chain of command does not strictly apply insofar as the President is concerned,” De Lima said, noting that President’s relationship or dealings with the PNP is not as commander-in-chief but only as chief executive.
“It is in the same manner as the chief executive over all executive offices and departments. We all know that in a civilian agency or in a civilian organization, chain of command is not there,” she said.