In Context

As a dual citizen of the Philippines and Spain, Paco Larrañaga was moved to a Spanish prison under what is known as the RP-Spain Transfer of Sentenced Persons Agreement (TSPA). Signed on May 18, 2007 and approved by the senates of both countries, this treaty allows foreign prisoners to be sent to their countries of nationality to serve out the rest of their sentences.

As of 2011, the Philippine government had established prisoner transfer agreements with five different nations--China, Canada, Cuba, Thailand and Spain. Though Paco's case is an exception, the origin of prisoner transfer treaties is largely humanitarian--they are typically issued to protect nationals who are incarcerated abroad under abusive and inhumane conditions. The sentencing country (in Paco's case the Philippines) retains sole power over whether or not the convicted person will be granted amnesty or pardon, but the treaty is dependent on the cooperation of partner nations and encourages cordial international relations. In this case, Spain has the option to ask the Philippines for clemency for Paco.

The RP-Spain TSPA permits transfers to be carried out only if certain criteria are met. The sentenced person must be a national of the state to which he or she is being transferred; the committed offense must be criminally punishable both in the country of offense and the country of nationality; the sentence must be final and without other legal recourse; and the sentenced person must have consented to the transfer, satisfied any payment of fines and have at least one year left to serve. In Paco Larrañaga's case, the Chiong family reportedly received 750,000 Philippine pesos in civil damages from the Larrañaga family (an amount equivalent to approximately $18,000 in 2012). Once a sentenced person or either partner nation confirms that all of these criteria apply, a transfer request may be submitted to the central authority of the state holding the individual.

Prisoner transfer agreements also exist in Australia, Japan, the Americas and several European countries. This type of agreement made national headlines in the United States when three British businessmen (the so-called "NatWest Three") pled guilty to fraud during the 2007 Enron case and were transferred to the United Kingdom prison system after serving only six months of a 37-month sentence.

Records kept by the U.S. International Prison Transfer Unit (the branch of the U.S. Department of Justice that presides over prison transfer agreements involving the United States) reveal that 595 foreign nationals were sent back to their home countries from United States prisons between 2008 and 2010 and 163 Americans returned from prisons abroad in that same time period.

Caption: A scene from 'Give Up Tomorrow'

» "Larrañaga Turned Over to Spain."
» Council of Europe. "Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons."
» Lee-Brago, Pia. "DFA Chief Defends RP-Spain Prison Transfer Treaty." The Philippine Star, September 12, 2009.