Subic rape case fallout
US cancels military exercises with RP over rape case
By Veronica Uy
Agence France-Presse, INQUIRER.net
THE United States has cancelled its annual joint military exercises with the Philippines due to the continued detention of a US Marine convicted of rape, an embassy spokesman said Friday.
“The custody issue is at the heart of this,” embassy spokesman Matt Lussenhop told INQUIRER.net. “Due to the current custody issue (over the US Marine), the usual protection provided to US servicemembers is in doubt.”
“This is an expression of displeasure on their part and you can’t fault them for being displeased,” Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales told Inquirer.net in a phone interview.
Chief Presidential Legal Adviser Sergio Apostol said the US could be sending the message that Smith’s continued detention at the Makati City Jail was a disrespect of the VFA.
Senate defense committee chairman Rodolfo Biazon meanwhile said the US decision was a form of “arm-twisting” to force the Philippines to turn over the American.
The Court of Appeals on Tuesday threw out a petition by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith that he be transferred immediately to the custody of the US embassy while his conviction is under appeal.
Smith, 21, of St. Louis, was convicted on December 4 of raping a Filipino woman, identified in court as “Nicole”, and was sentenced to 40 years in prison. He has been detained at the Makati City jail.
Lussenhop said: “Until the government and the courts ensure the Philippines is in full compliance with the VFA (visiting forces agreement), it would not be prudent to bring additional US troops to the Philippines at this time.”
Asked to comment on the US’s pullout from the Balikatan 2007 exercises, Foreign Affairs spokesman Eduardo Malaya said: “The DFA has not yet been officially notified.”
There was no immediate reaction from Malacañang.
Armed Forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Bartolome Bacarro said they were leaving the matter to the Department of Foreign Affairs.
Asked if the cancellation of the joint military exercises could be done unilaterally, Lussenhop said: “I honestly don’t know about that.”
He said the cancellation of the field exercises was announced by Admiral William Fallon, commander of the US Pacific Command.
Smith’s lawyers, the US Embassy and the Philippine departments of justice and foreign affairs have all said the American Marine’s current detention violates the VFA, which covers the presence of US troops in the Philippines.
A provision in the agreement says any accused American serviceman shall remain in US custody until all judicial proceedings are exhausted.
But regional trial court Judge Benjamin Pozon, who heard the case, said the provision applies only during “the judicial proceedings in the trial court” and expires upon a defendant’s conviction, regardless of a pending appeal.
Lussenhop said that the United States had “no plans” to cut military aid to the Philippines or pull out any additional US troops.
Balikatan is the largest US military exercise held in the Philippines each year, involving as many as 5,000 American soldiers.
At least one round of joint exercises between Filipino and US troops has been planned in February, said a military official who coordinated past war games.
The Field Training Exercises was set to be held at Fort Magsaysay in Laur town, Nueva Ecija province, Crow Valley in Capas town, Tarlac province, and the Marine Base in Ternate town, Cavite province, said the official, who asked not to be named.
The case of the Filipina raped by the US Marine has sparked street protests and revived anti-American sentiment in this former US colony.