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Rape – a crime of power

Originally published in:
Phillippine News

Rodel Rodis
On the front page of the November 5 issue of Manila dailies was the photo of Brad Tiffany, an American tourist from New York, screaming to placard-waving demonstrators who had marched to the U.S. Embassy in Manila to protest the rape of a Filipina by five American servicemen in Subic.

“She’s a prostitute asking U.S. servicemen for money!” Tiffany yelled, taunting the protestors.

But the incredibly arrogant Tiffany was wrong. An investigation by the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) revealed that the rape victim is a vacationing college graduate from a wealthy family from Zamboanga City who had just arrived in Subic with her stepsister a few days before the rape.

According to the SBMA, the 23-year old Filipina went with her stepsister and her stepsister’s boyfriend, a U.S. Marine who was on shore leave after participating in joint U.S.-Philippine anti-terrorism military exercises, to a karaoke bar on November 1. She was introduced to the five Marines who talked her into going with them in their rented van. It is unclear what they told her and why she agreed.

What is known is that a few hours later, witnesses saw the woman from Zamboanga being dumped unconscious from the van onto a road.

After she was brought to the nearest Subic hospital, a medico-legal examination confirmed that she had been brutally raped.

SBMA police authorities then interviewed Timoteo Soriano, the driver of the rented blue van used by the soldiers, and he signed a sworn statement attesting that “those U.S. Marines mercilessly raped the girl inside the van. It was really horrible.”

Rape charges were filed before the Olongapo City prosecutor’s office against U.S. Marines Keith Silkwood, Albert Lara, Corey Barris, Chad Carpenter and Daniel Smith. The name of a sixth Marine, Dominic Duplantis, was later dropped after he claimed he was not with the soldiers in the van.

As a result of the filing of the criminal complaint against them, the Marines were not allowed to leave the Philippines on board their ship, the USS Essex, which left on November 3. But rather than being arrested and incarcerated by Philippine authorities, the Marines were placed in the physical custody of the U.S. Embassy.

The U.S. Embassy then released a statement stating that it was taking the matter “very seriously” considering that U.S. troops headed for foreign lands were, as standard procedure, advised to observe “cultural sensitivity, proper behavior and respect for the law of the communities” they were visiting, especially when off-duty.

But this was not an offense against a “quaint local taboo,” as one pundit put it, but a viciously brutal crime, whether it occurred in New York or in Subic, and regardless of whether the victim was a “prostitute” as Brad Tiffany believed.

Perhaps that is the impression Tiffany has of Filipino women, an image that will be more widespread when the new Adam Sandler produced movie, Grandma’s Boy, appears in movie theatres this Christmas. In one scene, shown in the trailer to current movies, the title character says he spent the night with “three Filipino whores.”

Manila newspapers do not use the word “prostitute” or “whore,” preferring “sex worker” instead, a sign of political maturity and respect for the women who rely on the money from their sex labor to put food on the table for themselves and their families.

The Philippine Daily Inquirer November 6 editorial observed that “a rape is not only a crime against a person; it is also a crime of power, of unequal relations between victim and victimizer. The fact that the alleged rapists are American soldiers, running wild inside a former American naval base, makes their American-ness, in the context of our country’s own history, an inescapable reality.”

One “inescapable reality” is that before the Philippines closed down the U.S. bases in Subic and Clark in 1990, there were 52 documented cases of rape committed against Filipino women by U.S. soldiers stationed at those bases. But not a single American soldier was ever arrested or convicted of any of the offenses.

As columnist Rina Jimenez-David explained, “the central question in the present controversy is not whether the servicemen are guilty of the crime they’re accused of, but whether they will ever be made to face the music. Will the accused in the Subic rape case be haled before the local police and be made to face a Philippine judge? Or will they be able to escape Philippine justice just like those before them?”

Involved in the controversy is the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the U.S., signed in 1999, which covers this incident.
According to Article 5, Section 1 of the VFA, “Philippine authorities shall have jurisdiction over United States personnel with respect to offenses committed within the Philippines and punishable under the law of the Philippines.”

The rape case is supposed to be treated like any criminal case that will undergo preliminary investigation, filing of charges, arrest and trial. However, unlike ordinary criminal cases, Section 6 of the VFA states that “The custody of any United States personnel whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

According to this provision, the Marines will remain under the custody of American authorities for the duration of the investigation until the end of trial. Another provision of the VFA states that “in the event Philippine judicial proceedings are not completed within one year, the United States shall be relieved of any obligations under this paragraph.”

There is no such thing as a “speedy trial” in the Philippines. Criminal cases can be delayed for years and the U.S. will not need to do much to cause a delay in the proceedings that will deprive the Philippine courts of jurisdiction over the case.

It should be noted that President George W. Bush’s refusal to sign the United Nations agreement creating an international criminal court system is because he does not want U.S. soldiers to be subject to the jurisdiction of non-American courts as occurred in 1996 when three U.S. servicemen were convicted in the abduction and rape of a 12-year old Okinawa girl and sentenced by a panel of three Japanese judges to seven years in a Japanese prison.

A drive-by incidental victim of the Subic rapists may be Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. As president of a sovereign nation, she has to assure her people, as she did through her spokesperson, that the “Philippines stands for justice, the dignity of women and the rule of law and these shall be pursued and fulfilled by the government. Let every one be assured that we will pursue full justice for the victim and dignity for our country.”

The “inescapable reality” is that she may not be able to assure anyone that this will happen.

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