Senator Loren Legarda (pictured above), Chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, announced Tuesday that the Senate has officially approved, by its concurrence to the executive ratification of, three treaties--the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty (MLAT) with the People's Republic of China (PROC), the MLAT with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and the Consular Agreement with PROC.
"I am pleased to announce that we have approved three more treaties, aside from the five other agreements we approved earlier in the year. This only shows that, amid the political turmoil, the Senate remains devoted to its legislative mandate towards improving the welfare of the people," Legarda said.
Assistance will be take the form of taking testimony of witnesses, provision of documents and items of evidence, exchange of criminal records, execution of searches, location and identification of witnesses and tracing and confiscation of proceeds of crimes, as well as freezing of criminals’ assets.
The Senator explained that an MLAT provides a legal framework for mutual assistance by States in the investigation and prosecution of criminal offenses and in legal and judicial proceedings related to criminal matters. The Philippines currently has MLATs in force with Australia, the United States, Hong Kong, Switzerland, Republic of Korea and Spain.
"These MLATs have demonstrated their value as crime fighting tools. The MLAT with the United States, for instance, was the basis for the return of $100,000.00 in the Gen. Carlos Garcia case. The same MLAT allowed Ms. Gracia Burnham to return to the Philippines to testify against Abu Sayyaf members charged with kidnapping in the Dos Palmas Island Resort case."
"Meanwhile, the MLAT with Hong Kong allowed the Ombudsman to acquire bank documents relating to charges against government officials. We have also relied on the MLAT with Switzerland in our search for illegally acquired wealth and the subsequent recovery of such laundered assets and funds," Legarda pointed out.
On the other hand, one of the key benefits of the Consular Agreement with China is that, it will enable the Philippine Government, through consular missions, to reach out and extend immediate and appropriate protection to Filipinos in China who are being detained, arrested or deprived of freedom.
Legarda emphasized that "this agreement is not about keeping our nationals immune from prosecution. What we seek, through this Consular Agreement, is a heightened level of cooperation that will allow timely intervention by our Consular Posts. For our accused nationals overseas, this could literally mean the difference between life imprisonment and a death sentence, or even an acquittal."