Sunday, November 06, 2005

Militants demand end to US military presence in RP


By Veronica Uy, Tetch Torres, Lira Dalangin-Fernandez, Anthony Deleon, Maila Ager,, Agence France-Presse, Associated Press

LEFT-WING groups on Friday called for the scrapping of an agreement allowing joint exercises between Philippine and US troops after six US Marines allegedly raped a Filipina on All Saints’ Day. Even some legislators condemned the incident, saying it would be a test of the United States’ respect for the Philippine law.

The suspects -- part of a contingent that took part in recent joint counterterrorism exercises -- have been identified and were barred from leaving the country following accusations they raped the woman Tuesday at the sprawling former Subic US naval base north of Manila.

’Out now!’

About 30 activists from the League of Filipino Students and women's rights group Gabriela carried placards saying "US troops out now!" as they tried to march to the seaside US Embassy in Manila but were stopped by police.

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo described the alleged assault as a "heinous crime" and the US Embassy in Manila has said it will "fully cooperate" with local authorities in the investigation.

Representative Satur Ocampo of the left-wing Bayan Muna party said in a statement that "more such abuses will recur if the US military presence and exercises in the Philippines continue."

He said abuses by US military personnel recurred due to the joint military exercises “under the ambit of the so-called US war on terror.”

Ocampo called for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which spells out the privileges, immunity and criminal obligations of American troops in the country.

Strong evidence

Zosimo Paredes, executive director of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACOM), said the evidence against the suspects was strong.

"There was obviously no consent," he said.

Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) administrator Armand Arreza told in a phone interview Friday that there were witnesses, including the Filipino driver of a rented van where the alleged rape took place.

A condom was even found inside the van, said Arreza.

A medical examination on the woman revealed telltale signs of sexual assault.

Dr. Rolando Ortiz II, head of a medical team which examined the woman, said a thorough examination showed signs of penile penetration, and her body bore a number of contusions.

In an interview with INQ7.Net, Ortiz said the victim was badly bruised. "The victim had contusions on her left and right forearms, some parts of her torso and also on her right eye."

The contusions, as some experts had suggested, may have been the outcome of the victim's struggle to run away from her alleged attackers.

Prosecutors have presented a statement from a Filipino witness who said he saw the servicemen rape the woman.

"I saw how those US Marines mercilessly raped the girl inside the van. It was really horrible," the statement quoted Timoteo Soriano, driver of the rented van, as saying.

The assault

Authorities said the six Marines met the Filipino woman on Tuesday in Subic Bay, a former US naval base that has been transformed into an industrial and recreational hub.

The alleged victim was in a karaoke bar when she met the Americans who invited her to go with them in a rented van.

A few hours later, witnesses said they saw the woman being dumped unconscious from a van on a road, Subic authorities said in a statement.

A complaint filed with the Olongapo prosecutor's office identified the servicemen as Keith Silkwood, Daniel Smith, Albert Lara, Dominic Duplantis, Corey Barris, and Chad Carpenter.

Fair probe

In Malacañang, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita gave assurances of a fair investigation into the case.

He said the Department of Foreign Affairs has been tasked to ensure that "justice would be followed in accordance with our procedures and our laws."

"The instruction of the President is to ensure that justice is done and that the procedure and the provisions are properly followed and properly observed," Ermita said.


Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said, however, that the Philippine government could not prevent the US servicemen from leaving the country.

Gonzalez said the government could not issue a hold departure order against the US Marines, who are covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

"Under the VFA, basically we waive custody to the US except in cases which are of such importance to our country,” said Gonzalez on Friday.

The VFA was negotiated by Washington and Manila following the closure in 1992 of all US military bases in the country. The agreement was in lieu of permanent bases, which are banned by the Philippine Constitution.

Paul Jones, US chargé d' affaires, said Thursday the suspects “are currently in the Philippines under the responsibility of the US embassy in Manila.”

Under the VFA, the US Embassy has the custody over their servicemen who have committed crimes in the Philippines.

Ratified by the Philippine Senate in May 1999, the agreement details the rules on the treatment of US armed forces visiting the Philippines for training, joint military exercises with Philippine troops, and the like.

Respect for RP law

Representative Rufino Biazon and Rolex Sulico condemned the incident, saying it would be a test of the US’ sincerity and respect for Philippine law.

Biazon said the soldiers should be charged and tried in Philippine courts. “The Philippines should insist on this.”

Suplico said Philippine laws "must be respected at all costs" and those accused "should not be allowed to slip out and return home to the US."

“They should undergo police custodial investigation, preliminary investigation by the public prosecutor and thereafter trial for rape, like any accused,” he said.

Both congressmen, however, said the alleged offense should not hinder bilateral counterterrorism efforts.


A complaint of rape was filed against the US Marines in Olongapo City, which is adjacent to Subic, now an industrial and tourism estate, about 80 kilometers west of Manila.

Raymond Viray, an assistant prosecutor, said the suspects will be asked to respond to the complaint either in person or through an affidavit. The woman will also have an opportunity to respond.

The state prosecutor will then determine if there is probable cause for an indictment against some or all of suspects, he said.

US Embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop said the embassy has not yet received any official communication from the Philippine government regarding the charges.

He said US authorities are also involved in the investigation.

US authorities said the suspects will be presented to the courts once charges are formally filed.

Gang rape is punishable by life imprisonment or death in the Philippines.

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