Does the Country’s Justice System Favor the Accused U.S. Marines?

In the last preliminary investigation of the controversial Subic rape case in Olongapo City, prosecution lawyer Katrina Legarda raised alarm over the perceived bias of the country’s justice system for the six U.S. Marines accused of raping a Filipina. A judge who is also a former prosecutor says Legarda has reason to feel threatened.

BY DABET CASTAÑEDA

OLONGAPO CITY, Zambales – Members of the all-women prosecution team have denied being intimidated by the all-men defense team in the Subic rape legal battle. But the complainant’s lead counsel Katrina Legarda has made an admission: She is “threatened only by the Secretary of Justice.”

She told this to reporters at the end of the second hearing of the preliminary investigation in this city on Nov. 29.

The lady lawyer, who has been handling statutory rape cases since 1994, also accused Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales for not grating anything that the prosecution team has requested with regards the Subic rape case.

Gonzales, she said, has not insisted that the defendants’ identification cards and passports be given to the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) which the victim’s lawyers requested on Nov. 14. The justice secretary, she said, has not also asserted the Philippine government’s custodial rights over the six U.S. Marines accused in the rape case.

Aside from these, she said, Gonzales has refused to secure documents and other evidences that could help the Olongapo city prosecutor decide if there is “probable cause” to file the rape case in court. This third point, Legarda said, refers to the refusal of City Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni, who is under the Department of Justice (DoJ), to conduct DNA testing on the six U.S. Marines accused of raping a 22-year old Filipina inside the Subic Bay Freeport on the night of Nov. 1.

The freeport is the site of the former Subic Naval Base that hosted the U.S. Seventh Fleet for several decades until its closure in 1992. U.S. military exercises have resumed in the country since the Philippine government forged the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the U.S. in 1998.

Irregular

Legarda charged that the DNA request was “irregularly denied” by the city prosecutor. She said the DoJ, being the central authority in charge of prosecution under the VFA, could easily ask the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to ask the U.S. Embassy for such evidence.

However, Legarda said the justice department seemed not inclined to accede to any matters with respect to a Filipino victim under this treaty. “So I guess we just have to do what is necessary in order to prevent any kind of injustice from further being implemented here,” she told reporters.

“I don’t know where else a Filipino who is raped by a foreigner can go to if the Secretary of Justice is not going to help,” she added.

Legarda however said the DNA testing will be necessary once the investigation goes to trial. “Unless they’re guilty and they’re all scared,” she said.

Precedence

Meanwhile, Judge Dorentino Floresta of the Regional Trial Court of Region III in Gapan, Nueva Ecija admitted in a separate interview with Bulatlat that Legarda had reason to doubt that the investigation would prosper at the Olongapo court.

Floresta, who served as Assistant City Prosecutor of Olongapo in 1980-1990, Provincial Prosecutor of Zambales (1990-2000) and at the same time Olongapo Special Prosecutor for Child Abuse, said most sexual abuse cases filed before the Olongapo City Prosecutor against American servicemen were dismissed.

The women’s group Gabriela has documented in the period 1980-1988 15 cases of sexual child abuse (aged 11-16 years old) and 82 cases of sex-related abuses on women (aged 16 years and above) filed against U.S. servicemen based at both the Subic Naval Base and the Clark Air Base in Angeles City, Pampanga. The group said all cases were dismissed and many more were unreported.

With several child sexual abuse cases, the DSWD asked the Zambales court to create a Special Prosecution Court for Child Abuse in 1990, Floresta said. He said most of the cases recorded from 1980-1985 involved American servicemen.

The RTC judge however said that many of such cases did not prosper in court because the complainants were paid by the accused. “Inaareglo na lang ang mga kaso” (the cases were settled out of court), he said.

Of all the cases during his term, Floresta said, only two prospered in court. The first was a statutory rape case against an American serviceman who sexually abused an eight-year-old girl in 1991. Floresta only remembers the victim as a daughter of a prostituted woman in Olongapo. The accused was placed under legal hold but was detained inside the naval base under U.S. custody.

“May sarili silang detention center sa loob ng base, di-aircon pa. Kaya hindi natin alam kung ano ba ang kalagayan ng akusado, kung nakakulong ba talaga o kung nakakalabas” (The U.S. base had its own detention center with an aircon. We didn’t know the condition of the accused, whether he was really in custody or was set free), he said.

Floresta said the accused was able to sneak out of the country when U.S. servicemen were flown out of the naval base following the Mt. Pinatubo eruption middle of the year. The accused never came back to the country and remains at large to this day, he said.

Bias

Floresta said that in rape cases, there seems to be a bias against bar girls or prostituted women. In most cases he handled, the accused, whether an American serviceman or not, were acquitted simply because the complainants were bar girls. He added that during his time of service at the Olongapo Prosecutor’s Office, no accused was ever convicted of the crime of rape against a bar girl.

In one case in 1987, the veteran prosecutor said, an American serviceman skipped prosecution after allegedly raping and killing a bar girl in this city. The victim, a woman from Surigao province in her early 20s, was found to have a lipstick cover embedded inside her vagina after an autopsy.

Degraded as they are, Floresta said, the bar girls who cried rape were only offered a small amount of money to prevent a court case. “Binabarat lang nuon ang mga bar girl. Binabayaran lang ng P10,000. Kasi yung katayuan nila mahirap lang kaya sa tingin nila malaki na yun” (Bar girl [victims] were only given measly amounts like P10,000. Being poor, they thought the money offered was big), he said.

In the Surigao case, Floresta said the victim’s brother, a policeman, reportedly took some P60,000 from the accused. The case never reached the court.

Evelyn Marzan, a prostituted woman when the U.S. bases were still in operation, said she had known of co-workers who have been sexually abused. “Pero pinapayuhan na lang namin sila na huwag na magsampa ng kaso, magpabayad na lang sila” (We would just tell them not to file any case and just accept payment), she said.

“Kasi pag nagreklamo naman kami sa pulis sinasabi sa amin wag na kami magreklamo kasi trabaho naman namin yun” (If we complained to the police, they would tell us not to complain because it was part of our job as prostitutes), she added.

Floresta attributes this culture of immunity from sexual abuses to the people’s lack of trust in the country’s justice system. Cases take long to settle and victims see no certainty in winning so they just accept some money, he said.

Against the world’s strongest army

“Para akong umaakyat sa bundok” (It’s an uphill battle), was how Floresta described how he handled cases against the U.S servicemen, considered to be the strongest army in the world.

“Mahusay ang mga Amerikano, pinagtatanggol nila ang mga akusado” (American authorities are good in protecting their own accused), he said.

Floresta told how the U.S. military would keep a legal team inside the base specifically to handle sexual abuse and other cases filed against their men. U.S. Marines also had a discreet investigation team that went around town to look for the victims’ family, he said. “Pag nakita na nila ang mga kamag-anak, ooferan nila ng pera para hindi na ituloy ang kaso” (If they see relatives [of the victims], they would offer them money to prevent a court case), he said.

He had also been warned by American lawyers that there would be grave effects on Philippine-U.S. relations if he continued prosecuting American servicemen, he recalled.

Aside from pressure coming from the American lawyers, he said he was also told by the city government to slow down on rape cases because it could affect the image of the city. “Ayaw nila ma-publicize na ganun ang nangyayari sa Olongapo” (They don’t want any publicity about what’s happening in Olongapo), he said.

Political will

Floresta said he understood how much pressure beset the prosecution team and the prosecution’s office in relation to the latest rape case in Olongapo. His advice: “Pag alam ng mga Amerikano na wala kang ginagawang hanky-panky, irerespeto ka lang. Yun ang natutunan ko sa kanila. Pag alam nila na pinaglalaban mo ang iyong karapatan, irerespeto ka nila. Pero pag hindi, pag bigay ka lang ng bigay, lalong hindi ka irerespeto. Lalong ida-down ka nila.” (If the Americans know you don’t do any hanky-panky, they’ll respect you. Giving in will just not gain any respect from them – they just make sure you lose.)

Despite the odds, Floresta sees that the case against the six U.S. servicemen would prosper. “Kung suportado ng mamamayanan, mahirapan gumapang ang mga Amerikano nyan” (If the people support the case, the Americans would face a difficult hurdle), he said. (Bulatlat.com)

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