Saturday, April 29, 2006

Plea to downgrade raps v. 3 US Marines junked

MANILA -- Makati City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Judge Benjamin Pozon rejected Friday the amended complaint against the four US servicemen indicted for allegedly raping a Filipino woman in Subic in November 2005.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez Sr. was dismayed by the decision to make all four suspects as principals saying the court's ruling was based on a technicality and not on the merits of the case.

Gonzalez earlier downgraded the charges from principals to mere accessories against Staff Sergeant Chad Carpentier and Lance Corporals Keith Silkwood and Dominic Duplantis because of insufficiency of evidence of conspiracy to commit the crime. Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was retained as principal accused.

Smith and his co-accused did not enter any plea in Friday's arraignment at the Makati RTC Branch 139, prompting Pozon to enter a not guilty plea in their behalf.

People packed the hallway leading to the sala, while militants outside the court building held a rally.

Gonzalez said he received information that the defense counsels will elevate to the Court of Appeals (CA) the decision of Pozon to dismiss his resolution following a review of the Olongapo City Prosecutor's findings of probable cause against the American suspects.

He said the filing of an appeal might unduly affect the one-year period prescribed in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) for any criminal cases to reach resolution, after which the US government can not be compelled to produce the accused to face trial.

"That can probably be a cause for delay because I understand that the defense lawyers will bring it up to the CA," he said.

Gonzalez lashed at Pozon's claim that his "judicial independence" will be compromised if he would accept the amended complaint adopting the Department of Justice secretary's resolution downgrading the charges against three of the four soldiers.

He said the Rules of Court recognized the authority of the secretary of justice to reverse the resolution of the city or provincial prosecutor, citing a Supreme Court ruling in Roberts versus CA case.

"The judge erred. The judge said it would affect his judicial independence if he follows my resolution. How can he say that his judicial independence will be affected when these people have not even been arraigned yet? The court has not acquired jurisdiction over the case yet," Gonzalez said.

He further said the decision of the Makati City court to charge the four suspects as principals might only weaken the case because there is no evidence against Carpentier, Silkwood, and Duplantis as such.

"I don't think there's any evidence on that. If there was an iota of evidence that could make them principals, I will not have hesitated (to charge them). I don't believe there's a case against them as principals. There's a rape case against them but not as principals," Gonzalez said.

Meanwhile, Gonzalez said he received information that the defense will produce two witnesses during the trial that will bolster the claim of the victim that Smith raped her.

"There are two credible witnesses who will destroy this case if they will testify. But I can't say who they are, I don't even know if they are willing to testify," he said. (ECV/Sunnex)

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