Philippine president-elect Marcos Jr can enter US with diplomatic immunity: Envoy

President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr at a news conference at his headquarters in Philippines on May 23, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

MANILA (PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr would be "welcome" to the United States given his diplomatic immunity as a head of state, a top Washington diplomat pointed out on Thursday (June 9).

"The fact is, when you're a head of state, you have immunity in all circumstances and are welcome to the United States in your official role," US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman told reporters in a roundtable discussion in Pasay City when asked on the matter.

Before this, she capped off a day of meetings with Philippine officials, including Mr Marcos Jr and outgoing Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr.

"When someone is the head of state, they have immunity and would be welcome to the United States," Ms Sherman added.

In 2012, a US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit handed down a contempt judgment against Mr Marcos Jr, his mother Imelda, and the estate of Ferdinand Marcos Sr for violating an injunction that barred them from dissipating assets of the estate.

The contempt order came after the Marcoses entered into a settlement with the Ramos administration in 1992 and agreed to share their wealth with the government. It was considered a violation of the 1991 decision of the US District Court of Hawaii prohibiting the Marcos family from touching their US assets because these were the source of potential payment of damages to the human rights victims of martial law.

Thousands of martial law victims won a class action lawsuit for human rights violations against the estate of Marcos Sr in Hawaii in 1986, where they were awarded close to US$2 billion.

The contempt award also meant that the Marcoses would not be allowed to set foot on any US territory.

This issue was earlier raised during the first press conference of Mr Marcos Jr's then campaign spokesman Victor Rodriguez. A reporter had asked how the then presumptive President, as the country's top diplomat, could travel to the United States given the contempt order, but Mr Rodriguez ignored this and subsequent questions about the issue.

Ms Sherman stressed the "robust" relations between Manila and Washington, which spans 75 years.

She met with Mr Marcos Jr earlier in the day and had a "positive" and "productive" meeting where they discussed a wide range of topics, including ensuring freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and human rights.

So far, Ms Sherman is the highest US official that Marcos Jr has met since his proclamation as the country's next president.

"The friendship between the United States and the Philippines runs deep. And so, too, does our shared commitment to upholding and strengthening the rules-based international order," Ms Sherman told reporters.

"The Philippines has been a leader and a champion for upholding freedom of navigation in the South China Sea in the face of increasing encroachments," she said.

"The United States remains committed to standing with the government of the Philippines to uphold the rules and laws underpinning the international maritime order, and we have spoken up against infringements of the Philippines' sovereign rights," she added.

Ms Sherman said she was pleased to meet Mr Marcos Jr as part of her 10-day Asian swing that includes South Korea, Vietnam and Laos.

VFA extension

"We discussed strengthening our longstanding alliance, expanding people-to-people ties, deepening our economic relationship, advancing human rights, and preserving a free and open Indo-Pacific," Ms Sherman said in a Twitter post.

In a statement, Mr Rodriguez, the incoming executive secretary, said Mr Marcos Jr and Ms Sherman also "discussed the importance of partnering together in order to strengthen the economy (of) the two countries" in such areas as "public-private partnerships, clean energy and the digital economy."

Last May, Mr Marcos Jr said he was looking at extending the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US as he raised the issue during his meeting with US Charge d'Affaires Heather Variava at his campaign headquarters in Mandaluyong City.

Mr Marcos Jr also invited US President Biden to his inauguration on June 30, which he said "could further fortify the relationship of the two countries."

The Department of State earlier said Ms Sherman's visit to Asia reflected Washington's "continued commitment to the Indo-Pacific".

"The deputy secretary and the President-elect highlighted the importance of the US-Philippine alliance to security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region and the world and the importance of fostering respect for human rights and rule of law in the Philippines," US Department of State spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

Also present at the meeting between Mr Marcos Jr and Ms Sherman were Mr Rodriguez, Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose Manuel Romualdez and Foreign Undersecretary Theresa Lazaro.

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