As the trial of the Subic Rape Case approaches judgment, the complainant’s private prosecutor Evalyn Ursua hopes for a conviction for the four U.S. Marines sued for allegedly raping Nicole in November last year. On her client’s 23rd birthday celebration, the lawyer says that the case’s greatest strength is Nicole’s grit and determination to pursue justice against all odds, including a conflict with state prosecutors on a settlement issue.
BY DABET CASTAÑEDA
Beaming in her black fitting pants and maroon blouse topped with a shimmering shawl, birthday girl Nicole was all smiles in the simple yet meaningful celebration of her 23rd birthday early evening of Sept. 22 at the Malate Church in Manila.
Nicole is the Filipino woman who sued four U.S. Marines for raping her last year inside a moving van at the Subic Bay Free Port in Olongapo City, province of Zambales (126 kms north of Manila). The Makati Regional Trial Court is still hearing the case with the defense down to its presentation of their last two witnesses.
“You are so beautiful,” her private lawyer Evalyn Ursua told Nicole as she handed her client a bunch of deep red and pink chrysanthemums that perfectly matched her outfit. As if to show her gratitude, Nicole responded with a tight hug and a simple, “Thank you.”
Over a hundred friends and supporters were present at the mass offered to Nicole and other victims of violence against women at the Malate church and during the birthday gathering at the third floor of the same place. The support thrown at Nicole at this stage of the trial is more significant as she is embroiled in a conflict with state prosecutors.
As the defense started to present its witnesses last week, Nicole and her family walked out of the courtroom; accused state prosecutors of incompetence; and announced that they are boycotting future hearings until the Department of Justice (DoJ) replaces the prosecutors assigned to the case. Nicole’s mother then told the media that lead state prosecutor Fe de los Santos talked to her about settling the case as early as July. De los Santos, Nicole’s mother said, told her that Nicole’s case is part of a deal involving the case of former Agriculture Undersecretary Jocelyn “JocJoc” Bolante who is imprisoned in the U.S. for violation of immigration laws.
In response, De los Santos called Nicole and her mother as “ingrates” and told the media that “Nicole has been lying from the start.”
In an interview with Bulatlat, Ursua said the case’s greatest strength is Nicole’s determination to pursue justice.
Ursua also said she is confident with the evidences she has presented in court. “Ayaw namin masira (ang mga ebidensya) kaya namin hinihingi na mapalitan ang panel of state prosecutors,” (We do not want the evidences we presented to be wasted so we want the panel of state prosecutors replaced.) she said.
Late last week, Nicole requested the Department of Justice (DoJ) to replace the panel of state prosecutors except for Hazel Valdez. Justice Sec. Raul Gonzales has rejected the complainants request saying he has full trust on the DoJ panel.
Ursua was particularly infuriated, she said, with the fact that the state prosecutors talked about a settlement with Nicole’s mother behind their backs.
“That is unethical,” Ursua said of the state prosecutors, “Habang naghahanda kami ng witnesses at inihahanda si Nicole sa kanyang testimony, ganun pala ang sinasabi nila behind our backs.” (While we were preparing the witnesses and Nicole for her testimony, they were saying something behind our backs.)
“I am the private prosecutor. Nicole is of legal age. So why not tell us? Why tell the mother?” Urusa added.
Ursua said she also found it unusual that she was “all of a sudden” taken out of the picture when the defense started its presentation of witnesses. “I do not want to conclude but it’s up to the public to connect the dots.”
The DoJ has to explain to the Filipino people, Ursua said, why it is willing to retain prosecutors who think that the complainant is lying. “How can you be prosecuting a case you do not believe in? That’s inconsistent and unethical. De los Santos has lost all moral authority to be part of the prosecution panel,” Ursua said.
Meanwhile, in a separate interview, Nicole said she has been receiving electronic mails and telephone calls from her friends from the U.S. Marines and the U.S. Navy telling her to just “hold on.”
Nicole, who grew up in a U.S. military base in Zamboanga, southern Philippines, said she has made many friends from the U.S. Marines and Navy who participated in joint military training and exercises with its Filipino counterparts. In fact, it was her friend from the U.S. Marines, Chris Mills, who invited her and her siblings to go to Subic for a vacation last Nov. It was during that trip that Nicole was allegedly raped by Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith while three other American Marines allegedly cheered him on.
“Naniniwala sila (American friends) sa akin kasi kilala naman nila ako,” (They believe in me because they know me.) she said.
She said Mills, who was prevented from talking to Nicole before he testified in court, has emailed her several times after his testimony to “say hello and that he is sorry and guilty for what had happened.” But Nicole said she has repeatedly told Mills not to feel guilty “kasi hindi naman namin kasalanan ang nangyari.” (What happened is not our fault.)
Nicole’s family earned their living by tending a canteen which catered to U.S troops participating in joint military exercises. But Nicole has now realized that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) is “one-sided.”
The VFA is an agreement that covers the status, conduct and treatment of U.S. soldiers participating in joint exercises in the country. It paved the way for the conduct of a series of joint military exercises participated in by U.S. troops since its signing in 1999. The VFA provides that the U.S. will take custody of their soldiers accused of crimes committed in the Philippines during joint military exercises, sans objection by the Philippine government.
“Bakit pag tayo nagkaroon ng kasalanan sa ibang bansa kulong agad? Pag sila nagkasala dito nasa custody pa nila?” (Why is it that if Filipinos commit crimes in other countries we are jailed immediately? Why is it that if they (Americans) commit crimes here the U.S. still has custody over them?) Nicole asked. (Bulatlat.com)