MANILA, NOVEMBER 15,  2003   (STAR) You have to hand it to Mark Jimenez. Sentenced to two years in prison in Florida, officially stripped of his seat in the Philippines’ House of Representatives, the former Manila congressman still makes an effort to put himself in the best light.

Jimenez received two years after pleading guilty to charges that he raised funds illegally for the campaign of Bill Clinton, at the time president of the United States, and Clinton’s fellow Democrats. Jimenez expressed hope that his guilty plea would serve as a "moral lesson" in the Philippines, where few people ever admit to corruption even when caught with their hands in the cookie jar.

Left unsaid was the fact that Jimenez was forced to plead guilty in hopes of reducing his sentence after being presented with incontrovertible proof of wrongdoing by US prosecutors. And left unsaid was his realization that justice is non-negotiable in his adopted country.

Consider what would have happened if Jimenez had been indicted for a similar offense in the Philippines. He would have cried political persecution, or else expressed great indignation over the idea of a congressman being slapped with a criminal indictment. His House colleagues would have raised hell if ever anyone tried to arrest him and lock him up in jail. In the off chance that the case went to trial, his lawyers would employ enough delaying tactics to make the case drag for 10 years. By that time the people in Jimenez’s district in Manila would have re-elected him two more times to Congress, and he would be planning a run for the Senate or even higher office. With his mastery of winning hearts and minds in this country, he has a good chance of victory.

Consider what would have happened if Jimenez had been implicated in a scandal on campaign finance in this country. He would never have been indicted here in the first place, since regulations on campaign contributions and spending here are pathetic and enforcement laughable.

There are lessons to be learned from this low point in the life of Mark Jimenez. But the lessons are not the ones he wants to impart .

STAR EDITORIAL - Lost case Publish Date: [Friday, November 14, 2003]

There can’t be any political motivation in this case, so the evidence must truly be insufficient for the extradition of Roger Lawrence Strunk. Yesterday a US court rejected the Philippine government’s request to have Strunk sent back to Manila for trial. Strunk, widower of murdered movie star Nida Blanca, left the Philippines for the United States on Jan. 10 last year for his mother’s funeral, promising to return to face accusations that he was behind the killing of his wife. No one believed he would return, and the Philippine government eventually had to seek his extradition.

Now the case appears headed for the dustbin of unsolved crimes. The court’s rejection is not entirely surprising, considering that the principal witness against Strunk is Philip Medel, a shady character in the same league as scam artist Ador Mawanay. Medel had confessed to the National Bureau of Investigation that he was hired by Strunk to kill the actress. Soon after, Medel was on TV having a convulsive fit, claiming he was tortured into confessing to the crime. The NBI said Medel’s original testimony remained valid despite his subsequent recantation. Other witnesses were eventually presented, corroborating the first story woven by Medel.

The story didn’t wash, as far as US Magistrate Gregory Hollows was concerned. When Manila had sought the extradition, Strunk was placed under provisional arrest last May 13 and detained at the Sacramento County Jail. With Hollows’ ruling, Strunk is expected to walk free soon.

What happens now to the two-year-old murder case? Prosecutors still have Medel, who will rot in prison in case enough witnesses are found to testify against him – that is, if none of the witnesses recants or follows Strunk and flees to the United States. That’s the greatest risk when crime investigators fail to do their homework and a case hinges on witnesses’ testimony. This case is lost. With no mastermind and the accused hired killer mentally unstable, the truth about Nida Blanca’s murder may never be known.

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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