RP-US relations

Trial of US Servicemen Accused of Rape: Litmus Test for Philippines-US Anti-Terror Treaty*

MAKATI CITY, PHILIPPINES — Facing her supposed tormentors for the first time in court, 22-year-old “Nicole” (not her real name) was inconsolable. She was sobbing intermittently as two witnesses took the stand and recounted the night of November 1st, 2005, when five US servicemen allegedly raped and dumped her “like a pig” in a deserted street in Subic Bay Freeport, Olongapo City, approximately 127 kilometers north of the capital city of Manila.

“She was afraid, but she knew she had to endure it,” said Evalyn Ursua, private lawyer to the victim, of the presence of “Nicole” in during the first day of trial. Apparently traumatized by the ordeal, “Nicole” had previously sat out of the pre-trial hearings which were heavily covered by local and international media.

Dr. June Pagaduan-Lopez, the victim’s therapist who sat with her and comforted her throughout the hearing, said during trial recess that she had previously prepared “Nicole” for the eventuality of having to face the Americans.

Seven months after the supposed ordeal, Nicole was compelled to sit through the four-hour examination by public prosecutors and defense lawyers after Makati City Judge Benjamin Pozon required her presence for the witnesses’ identification.

Just across the courtroom from where “Nicole” sat were the five Americans – Lance Corporals Daniel Smith, Keith Silkwood and Dominic Duplantis and Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier – who wore long-sleeved shirts and were flanked by Filipino and American lawyers, US Embassy staff and their security personal.

The accused were in the country as part of the US contingent to an anti-terrorism training exercise last November.

Tomas Corpuz Jr., a security guard for Neptune Club in Subic, related seeing “Nicole” with Smith, one of the accused, dancing on the night of November 1st. The victim, testified Corpuz, appeared to be “drunk” and “could not walk straight.”

Another security guard in the club, Gerald Muyot, testified seeing Smith leave the club with “Nicole” on his back unconscious. “She’s with me, we’re gonna go now,” Muyot quoted Smith as saying as he boarded the victim in a green Starex van.

During cross-examination, the defense lawyers lost no time trying to demolish the witnesses’ testimony and the victim’s credibility. Carpentier’s Filipino lawyer, Francisco Rodrigo, for one, asked “what this innocent woman [was] doing” in a “naughty” place like Neptune.

The five US servicemen, through their affidavits submitted before Philippine investigators, had previously denied the accusation. In his affidavit, Smith admitted to have met the victim on the November 1st but claims he had consensual sex with “Nicole.”

Ursua, however, said that the two witnesses’ testimony only bolstered the victim’s claim that Smith, with the four other accused cheering him on, forced himself upon “Nicole.” “It only proves that she couldn’t have consented to sex because she was very drunk,” she explained.

Meanwhile, Ursua will continue pushing for the Philippine government’s custody of the US servicemen. In Philippine laws, a rape, being a heinous crime, is non-bailable. In fact, the Philippine Justice Department last January already issued a warrant of arrest on the five accused.

This warrant has, however, been subsequently revoked by the Philippine Justice Department after the US Embassy refused to surrender the accused to the Philippine government. In a statement in January, the US Embassy cited Article 5 of the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) which states: “The custody over any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

This came as no surprise to Ursua and the various women’s organizations lending their support to “Nicole.” In fact, Gabriela, the largest women’s organization in the country in the thick of the awareness campaign for “Nicole”’s case, had been campaigning for VFA’s abrogation since the day it was ratified by Senate seven years ago.

“It was seven years of crimes and abuse against the Filipino people, the most recent of which is the Subic rape case. And because of the privileges granted to US military forces such as the VFA provision on criminal jurisdiction, the US authorities have refused to yield custody of the suspects,” said Lana Linaban, Gabriela’s deputy secretary-general.

The Philippine government, meanwhile, maintains that the case is an isolated one. “This is an isolated incident and while the case may indeed be a test on some provisions of the VFA, it should not be a test of our time-honored friendship with the United States,” said Presidential Spokesman Ignacio Bunye.

The US and its former Asian colony maintain strong political and military relations for the past century.

*An article on the Subic rape case I submitted last week to an Italian news agency I am stringing for…

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