Anti-American Gabriela and Bayan held rally in front of Olongapo Hall of Justice
The Philippine Star
OLONGAPO (AP) - Women's rights activists on Wednesday picketed a government prosecutor's office southwest of Manila, where six U.S. Marines accused of raping a Filipino woman were set to answer the complaint at the start of a preliminary investigation.
The alleged assault on the 22-year-old woman at the former U.S. naval base in Subic has stirred emotions in the Philippines once an American colony and the government last week formally requested custody of the Marines.
They have been in the hands of the U.S. Embassy since the complaint was filed Nov. 1, and the U.S. government hasn't said if they will be transferred.
About two dozen members of the Gabriela women's group trooped in front of the Hall of Justice in Olongapo city, 80 kilometers southwest of Manila, armed with placards calling for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement that allows U.S. troops to train in the Philippines.
They chanted "U.S. troops out now" and "U.S. imperialists, sexual terrorists."
Also present were members of a pro-U.S. group, dressed in fatigue pants and black shirts.
They said the Marines are innocent until proven guilty.
Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said U.S. authorities gave their commitment to present the Marines whenever needed. But it was not clear if the servicemen will attend Wednesday's proceedings or send their lawyers.
Prosecutors said they summoned the Marines, the woman and witnesses, but acknowledged they have no power to compel the Americans to personally appear.
Olongapo city prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni said he will ask the Marines to give sworn statements in response to the rape complaint.
"We are taking every effort to ensure any and all accused shall be tried under Philippine laws and, if found guilty, will be answerable for their crimes under Philippine laws," Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said Monday.
The case has renewed calls, including among lawmakers, for a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which some officials say contains vague provisions that are biased against the Philippines.
Pro American Ely "Spike Boy" Pamatung burned the flag of Communist China
Lawyers for US Marines accused of rape challenge witness evidence
OLONGAPO (AFP) - Lawyers for six US Marines accused of raping a Filipina woman challenged witness evidence on Wednesday in a case seen as a litmus test for a treaty that protects American troops serving here.
At a preliminary investigation before local prosecutors, the Filipino lawyers for the six tried to raise questions about whether one of the witnesses had been coerced into linking the Marines to the alleged rape.
Although the six did not appear they had earlier filed sworn statements giving their side of the incident, US embassy spokesman Matt Lussenhop said.
He later assured the public that the accused remain in US custody in the Philippines, adding that the embassy would "cooperate closely with (local investigators) to ensure this case is handled fairly and that justice is done."
A 22-year-old Fililina woman has claimed the Americans gang-raped her in the nearby former US naval base of Subic Bay on November 1.
During the proceedings defense lawyers urged prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni to accept as evidence tapes and transcripts of radio interviews with Timoteo Soriano, a van driver who initially said he witnesssed the rape.
The lawyers cited radio interviews in which Soriano said that Subic Bay security chief Paquito Torres coerced him into linking the Americans -- even though he had never seen the alleged rape.
Torres, who was at the proceedings, denied using coercion and then invoked his right to counsel.
The prosecutor ordered radio stations to submit copies and transcripts of the interview with Soriano detailing the alleged coercion.
Outside about 50 leftist protesters held a noisy rally, condemning the close defense relations between the United States and its former colony.
The servicemen were part of a US contingent that had just taken part in joint exercises in the former US naval base of Subic.
The case has drawn widespread media attention and some human rights advocates say it has opened up old wounds caused by past abuses.
US diplomats have refused to turn the men over to Philippine authorities and have invoked the Visiting Forces Agreement.
The treaty, forged in 1998, grants limited immunity from criminal prosecution to US troops when they are engaged in joint maneuvers in this country.
"This is a test case for the VFA. This is the first time that we are investigating US servicemen under the treaty," prosecutor Raymond Viray told AFP.
The next round of investigations is set for November 29, after which prosecutors will determine whether there is probable cause to charge the six in court.
If a case against them is established, the soldiers would be arrested, detained and tried in the Philippines. Rape is punishable by life imprisonment or death if there are aggravating circumstances.
Lawyers for one of the six US servicemen identified as Albert Lara has specifically asked to be allowed to challenge the alleged victim -- whose identity has been withheld -- face-to-face before the prosecutor.
Jalandoni said this would be resolved later.
Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo has asked the US embassy to turn over the suspects, citing the sensitivity of the case.
Lawyers for the victim (women in black at right) and the accused (men in white at left) meet at the preliminary investigation of the alleged gang-rape in Olongapo City yesterday before Chief City Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni.
Subic rape: Victim, suspects a no-show
By Ding Cervantes and Bebot Sison Jr. The Philippine Star
The key figures in the controversial rape case involving a 22-year-old Filipina and six US servicemen were a no-show during the preliminary investigation at the Hall of Justice here yesterday.
The lawyers of the six US soldiers accused of the rape, however, took center stage by challenging the evidence presented by a witness in the case that could be seen as "a litmus test" of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
During the preliminary investigation, the lawyers of the American servicemen tried to raise questions about whether one of the witnesses had been coerced into linking the Marines to the alleged rape.
Although the six soldiers did not appear, they had earlier filed sworn statements giving their side of the incident, US Embassy Press Attaché Matthew Lussenhop said in a news conference before the preliminary investigation began.
Lussenhop declared the physical presence of the six accused "was not required by the Office of the (Olongapo) City Prosecutor, although all six remain in US custody in the Philippines."
Lussenhop said the six accused would remain in the custody of the US Embassy in Manila, adding that the mission would "cooperate closely with (local investigators) to ensure this case is handled fairly and that justice is done."
He said the six were ready to file sworn statements with the prosecutor’s office but their lawyers were not able to submit them due to the additional testimony submitted by the complainant’s lawyers.
Lussenhop led the US delegation that included US Marine Capt. Burrel Parmer, former spokesman for the recently concluded Talon Vision and Philblex joint military exercise in which the six Marines were participants.
The alleged rape victim also failed to attend the preliminary hearing but she was represented by lawyers Sheila Bazar and Raymund Escolango.
Her lawyers submitted a supplemental affidavit signed by witness Fe Castro detailing the "gruesome ordeal" suffered by the victim at the hands of the six Americans.
This surprised the defense lawyers who urged Olongapo City Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni to give them time to answer the supplemental affidavit.
Jalandoni gave the defense lawyers five days to submit their counter-affidavits.
Defense lawyers also urged Jalandoni to accept as evidence tapes and transcripts of radio interviews given by Timoteo Soriano, driver of the van rented by the American soldiers and in which the rape allegedly took place.
Soriano initially claimed he had witnessed the rape.
The lawyers cited radio interviews in which Soriano said that Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) security chief Paquito Torres had coerced him into linking the six Americans — even though he had never seen the alleged rape.
Torres, who was present in the proceedings, denied using coercion and invoked his right to counsel.
Jalandoni then ordered radio stations to submit copies and transcripts of the interview with Soriano detailing the alleged coercion.
The witnesses — Castro and Soriano — also failed to attend the preliminary hearing.
Outside of the building where the preliminary investigation was held, protesters condemned the security agreement between the US and its former colony. Answer the allegations
The accused servicemen were part of a US contingent that had just taken part in joint military exercises in the former US naval base of Subic.
The case has drawn widespread media attention and some human rights advocates say it has opened up old wounds caused by past abuses by the Americans.
The VFA, forged in 1998, grants limited immunity from criminal prosecution to US troops when they are engaged in joint maneuvers in this country.
"This is a test case for the VFA. This is the first time that we are investigating US servicemen under the treaty," prosecutor Raymond Viray said.
Viray added the American servicemen are expected to deny any wrongdoing.
He said the next round of investigations is set for Nov. 29, after which prosecutors will determine whether there is probable cause to charge the six Americans in court.
If a case against them is established, the soldiers would be arrested, detained and tried here to face life imprisonment or death if there are aggravating circumstances, Viray said.
Albert Lara, a lawyer for one of the six US servicemen, specifically asked to be allowed to challenge the alleged victim face-to-face before prosecutors. Jalandoni added this would be resolved later.
Despite the no-show of the rape victim, the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) said she is bent on pursuing the case against the six Americans.
Sources, however, said the victim had been about to withdraw her complaint against the six but her request was turned down by Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez.
Two DOJ officials separately claimed the victim was about to submit her affidavit effectively recanting the rape charges against the six Americans.
"The truth is the victim intends to recant the rape charges. That was refused by the Justice Secretary because it will not reflect well on him. Her recantation is that what she remembers is that she was being kissed," one of the officials said.
The official said the victim wanted to maintain that she was just kissed by the accused.
"She wants to delete the element of rape in her original complaint-affidavit," another DOJ official disclosed.
"She was with her lawyer, Atty. (Minerva) Ambrosio. The victim wants that portion on the element of rape... and she will strike that out," the official added.
Sources disclosed Gonzalez did not allow the victim and her lawyer to enter his office, forcing them to proceed to Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño and State Prosecutor Lilian Alejo to subscribe her withdrawal.
The source claimed the victim, including her lawyers Ambrosio and Katrina Legarda, decided against appearing before the preliminary investigation because of the publicity.
"The victim was advised by Zuño to go to the fiscal in Olongapo at 7:00 a.m. today (Wednesday) so that she will not be seen by the media. If that portion (the rape allegations) is deleted, the case will be dead. It will be lessened to sexual abuse or sexual molestation," the official pointed out.
"The government can still pursue the case against the six US Marines for the remaining allegations of sexual molestation, but the case will definitely be weak," the official added.
"The victim can be forced to testify against the accused, but it will not change anything because the recantation will definitely weaken the case against the accused," he said.
The same officials pointed out the request of the defense lawyers for more time to submit their supplemental-complaint affidavit would cause delays in the proceedings. — With Ric Sapnu, Jose Rodel Clapano, Sheila Crisostomo, AP, AFP, Reuters