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by Rene P. Ciria-Cruz

27,000 Japanese Protesters Form Human Chain Against U.S. Base (2000)

(PNS) -- A Philippine court on Monday convicted a U.S. Marine of raping a 22-year-old Filipina college student and sentenced him to 40 years in prison. It ended a long trial that revived bitter memories of unequal relations between the Philippines and the United States.

A scuffle in court after the verdict, however, illustrated the continuing diplomatic tension generated by the case. Filipino police officers tussled with U.S. Embassy personnel to stop them from taking the convicted marine back into Embassy custody.

Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith was found guilty of sexually assaulting the victim inside a van last year while she was drunk. She was later abandoned half-naked inside a former U.S. military base. Three other marines, who allegedly cheered Smith on during the assault, were acquitted. Smith, 21, from St. Louis, Missouri, argued in defense that the sex was consensual. The victim said she was extremely intoxicated, but she resisted him.

Smith, like many men, apparently still don't understand that when a woman says no to a man, it means no, regardless of the circumstances that found them together. So he became the first American soldier to be convicted of a crime since the Philippine closed the U.S. military bases in 1992 and a Visiting Forces Agreement was signed in 1998 to facilitate American military exercises in the country.

What irked many Filipinos was their perception that Smith behaved as an entitled American who felt he could do whatever he wanted in a poor country, where in the opinion of many American servicemen used to prostitution during R&R in the heyday of the U.S. military bases, Filipino women were for the taking.

After Philippine independence in 1946 the U.S. signed a military bases agreement with its former colony, allowing U.S. forces use of 23 military installations for 99 years, an agreement that stuck in the craw of Filipino nationalists. The years following saw injuries added to the insult--U.S. soldiers would shoot local residents but never face Filipino justice.

In 1964 a sentry at the Clark U.S. Airbase shot a Filipino boy in the back. Shortly after, sentries in Subic Naval Base shot and killed a fisherman. In 1968 an American guard shot and killed another a Filipino at a U.S. base near Manila. The following year a U.S. soldier shot a Filipino base employee with his service pistol. His defense was he mistook the Filipino for a wild boar.

Protest demonstrations followed most of these incidents, especially after the American authorities invariably whisked accused soldiers back to the U.S. mainland. The old bases treaty stipulated that U.S. military personnel were not subject to Philippine law for crimes committed in the country.

The recent rape trial also has put the Visiting Forces Agreement of 1998 under scrutiny, especially over the issue of how U.S. servicemen will be handled when they violate Philippine laws. The agreement clearly states that the Philippine government has jurisdiction over U.S. personnel who violate Philippine laws.

But Smith stayed under the protection of the U.S. Embassy during the trial, presumably to shield the Marine from a "Midnight Express" experience in a local prison. The Embassy insists that he should remain under its protection as he appeals the verdict. The Philippine side, however, insists that Smith be held in a Manila jail, and physically prevented the Embassy from getting him back after the trial.

The U.S. Embassy's insistence on protecting a convicted rapist injures Filipino pride, and local pundits suspect that Smith might be whisked away to the U.S. mainland, like in the old days, to escape Philippine justice.

This rape case has become a test of the United States' respect for Philippine sovereignty. Filipinos want to find out if the American authorities understand that when a sovereign nation--although a former colony of theirs--says no to their insistence on privilege, it means no.

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Albion Monitor   December 7, 2006   (

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