Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s statement last week calling on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s opponents and critics to refrain from making a political issue out of the Subic rape case misses the whole point — that the rape of a Filipina by visiting U.S. troops cannot be anything but a political issue.
BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s statement last week calling on President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s opponents and critics to refrain from making a political issue out of the Nov. 1 alleged rape of a Filipina in Subic, Zambales (138 kms. north of Manila) by six U.S. Marine soldiers, misses the whole point. The rape case involving visiting U.S. troops cannot be anything but a political issue.
Initial findings from Subic police show that the victim, a college graduate from Zamboanga taking a vacation in Subic, was at a karaoke bar Nov. 1 when she met the six suspects, who reportedly took her with them into a rented van. An eyewitness saw her a few hours later being dumped on the road, unconscious, only wearing panties, from a van.
The six suspects – Keith Silkwood, Daniel Smith, Albert Lara, Dominic Duplantis, Corey Barris and Chad Carpenter – were participants in the joint Philippine-U.S. Balikatan military exercises. They are now under the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Manila. Subpoenas have been served to them, but the U.S. Embassy has yet to surface the suspects.
The U.S. Navy is reportedly conducting its own investigation of the incident. “Currently, the NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigation Service) is investigating from the U.S. side,” said Capt. Burrel Parmer, public affairs officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to which the six suspects belong. “I don’t know exactly what the Philippine side is investigating, but I know there is an ongoing investigation.”
Parmer’s statement sounds reassuring until we look back at the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which provides for the “rights” of U.S. troops visiting the Philippines for the Balikatan military exercises – which includes exemption from passport and visa requirements.
The VFA provides enough loopholes for the six US soldiers accused of rape to evade justice.
The first loophole is on the question of jurisdiction. Article V of the VFA, which deals with criminal jurisdiction, provides among other things that the U.S. has the primary right to exercise jurisdiction over U.S. personnel in relation to “offenses arising out of any act or omission done in performance of official duty.”
If the NCIS investigation yield the “findings” that the rape was committed while the six U.S. soldiers were “on official duty” by regarding the entirety of the six suspects’ stay in the Philippines for the Balikatan military exercises – including their off-“training” hours – as “official duty.” Then all the Philippines can do is to call for a “review” of the official duty certificate and “mandate” the U.S. side to “take full account” of the Philippine position.
The VFA also provides that the Philippine government may waive jurisdiction over a case if requested by United States military authorities: “Recognizing the responsibility of the United States military authorities to maintain good order and discipline among their forces, Philippine authorities will, upon request by the United States, waive their primary right to exercise jurisdiction except in cases of particular importance to the Philippines. If the Government of the Philippines determines that the case is of particular importance, it shall communicate such determination to the United States authorities within twenty (20) days after the Philippine authorities receive the United States request.”
The said provision practically compels Philippine authorities to give up criminal jurisdiction at the “request” of the U.S. government. Given the tendency of the Arroyo administration to kowtow to any request by the US government such as supporting unjust wars of aggression as what happened in Iraq, then the six US soldiers may as well elude justice in exchange for aid.
Another loophole is the question of custody. While denying the rumors that the six US soldiers have been spirited out to the US base in Japan, US embassy officials claim that there is nothing in the VFA that compels the accused to be held in the country. They said that what was required by the VFA was to ensure that the accused be presented in court whenever necessary.
When criminal jurisdiction over the six suspects goes into U.S. hands, the Philippines may as well kiss all hopes of justice for the victim goodbye. The U.S. also has a long record of spiriting away American soldiers suspected of committing criminal acts in the Philippines before they could be tried in Philippine courts.
The culpability of Macapagal-Arroyo lies in her unwavering support for US military presence in the country.
Upon assumption of office after the ouster of former President Joseph Estrada, Macapagal-Arroyo could have used the powers of her office to call for a termination of the VFA. The VFA provides that either party could give a notice of termination of the agreement. The agreement remains in force until after 180 days from the date when either party notifies the other in writing that it desires to terminate the agreement.
On the contrary, in late 2001, Macapagal-Arroyo actively pushed for the Balikatan military exercises. She even called its opponents “un-Filipino” and “Abu Sayyaf lovers.” Her vice-president and foreign affairs secretary then, Teofisto Guingona, who in 1991 voted for the rejection of the RP-U.S. Military Bases Agreement and remained a staunch opponent of the presence of U.S. troops on Philippine soil, was even forced to resign in late 2002. He would then be replaced as foreign affairs secretary by the pro-U.S. Blas Ople.
Macapagal-Arroyo would even add to all these by approving also in late 2002 the Mutual Logistics Support Agreement (MLSA), which permits U.S. troops to bring military equipment into the country from any point – thus allowing for some sort of basing arrangements.
By not exercising her powers to bring about a termination of the VFA, by pushing for the Balikatan military exercises and the approval of the MLSA, Macapagal-Arroyo places on her shoulders the responsibility for the consequences of the aforementioned iniquitous RP.U.S. agreements. This includes the Nov. 1 rape of a Filipina in Subic by six U.S. Marine soldiers. This makes it an issue against her administration.
Above all, the issue of the Nov. 1 rape is an issue of sovereignty. The VFA and the MLSA, by their iniquity, can rightly be assailed as affronts against Philippine sovereignty.
All these make the issue of the Nov. 1 rape a political issue. (Bulatlat.com)