Olongapo SubicBay BatangGapo Newscenter

Saturday, January 28, 2006

Judge withdraws arrest warrants for 4 US Marines

MANILA (AP) – Arrest warrants against four U.S. Marines accused of raping a Filipino woman have been withdrawn because the men are now in American custody under a bilateral accord, a judge said.

The U.S. Embassy last week rejected Manila's request to take custody of the Marines, invoking a provision of the Visiting Forces Agreement giving the embassy the right to hold any American military personnel facing charges in the Philippines.

The rejection angered Philippine politicians and prompted a congressional committee to issue a resolution seeking the abrogation of the agreement, which also allows large-scale American military exercises in the country.

But Judge Renato Dilag of the Regional Trial Court in Olongapo City said the Marines being held by the U.S. Embassy equated to them being held by the Philippines, noting that neither the Justice Department nor the Department of Foreign Affairs tried to serve the arrest warrants after the embassy took them into custody.

``The accused are supposed to be already under the custody of the court when they surrendered to the proper authorities - the U.S. Embassy - as called for in the VFA,'' Dilag said. ``The VFA is a treaty which is now part of the law of the land.''

Dilag also said he will set a hearing date for the four men once the Justice Department has ruled on their petition to review the indictment.

Prosecutors allege that Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith raped a 22-year-old woman Nov. 1 inside a van at Subic Bay, a former U.S. Naval base adjacent to Olongapo, as fellow Marines cheered him on. Smith claims he only had consensual sex.

Also charged were Lance Cpl. Keith Silkwood, Lance Cpl. Dominic Duplantis and Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier, part of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Force stationed in Okinawa, Japan.

The rape case is seen as a black mark on U.S. military exercises that have been credited with helping to weaken al-Qaida-linked extremists in the southern Philippines - TEMPO


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