Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Olongapo court starts rape charge probe today

By Roy Pelovello

JUSTICE Secretary Raul Gonzalez yesterday encouraged the 22-year-old Filipina who accused six US servicemen of raping her to appear at today’s preliminary investigation because failure to do so could be exploited by the defense.

Gonzalez said the US soldiers, too, should appear before the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office to answer the charges.

Earlier, reports quoted the complainant’s lawyer as saying she might stay away from today’s preliminary investigation to avoid unwanted publicity.

Lawyer Minerva Ambrosio, one of the lawyers working for the victim, said in a text message that she would likely not be made to appear to spare her the ordeal.

But Gonzalez said this was the wrong approach.

“If you are a victim and if you are outraged by what happened to you, you should appear,” he said.

He said the defense could use her nonappearance to delay the proceedings.

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), judicial proceedings against US military personnel accused of crimes here should be completed in a year, after which US authorities will no longer be under obligation to present the accused for investigation or trial.

Besides, Gonzalez said, the hearing would give the woman the opportunity to point to her alleged assailants and buttress her complaint.

Gonzalez said the victim and her lawyer sought to meet with him as a way to avoid appearing in today’s preliminary investigation, but he refused to see them to avoid the appearance of bias.

Under court rules, any finding by the investigating fiscal may be appealed to the justice secretary.

Yesterday, a group of lawyers aired fears that the one-year limit in VFA could be used to dismiss the case against the six servicemen.

The Equal Justice for All Movement said “judicial proceedings” in VFA should refer to hearings and trials conducted by a court of law, and not to the preliminary investigation, which begins today.

Leonard de Vera, who heads the group, said the one-year period should begin once the public prosecutor files the criminal information in court and the accused is arraigned.

“No court, conscious of the one-year limitation under VFA, will allow this case to go beyond the one-year limit in spite of efforts of some parties to delay this case,” he said.

He added that a year is more than enough time to litigate and resolve the rape case. With Rio N. Araja


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