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Rape Allegations Against Marines Spur Angry Protests in Philippines

Crowds rail against the presence of American troops after a young woman says she was attacked. The countries' relations could be hurt.

November 08, 2005|Richard C. Paddock | Times Staff Writer

MANILA — Angered over the alleged rape of a 22-year-old Filipina as she rode in a van with six U.S. Marines, demonstrators railed Monday against the presence of American troops in the Philippines.

No charges have been filed in Wednesday's incident at the former Subic Bay naval base, but six Marines are being held by the U.S. Embassy in an undisclosed location. U.S. and Philippine officials are conducting separate investigations into allegations that the woman was raped and left by the side of the road.

Lurid details of the incident have been widely published in the Philippine press. Newspapers have labeled it a "gang rape." One Philippine senator called the Marines "sex terrorists." Some critics said the case, like the mistreatment of detainees at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison, was part of a pattern of abuse by U.S. forces abroad.

U.S. officials, however, said neither the Philippine nor the American investigation was complete and that the facts remained unclear. The Marines will be made be available to Philippine authorities when a request is made, U.S. Embassy spokesman Matt Lussenhop said.

"Our focus is to make sure the truth comes out and justice is done," Lussenhop said. "The six Marines were alleged to have been involved or were witnesses. They are now under the responsibility of the embassy."

The Marines, who were stationed aboard the Okinawa-based amphibious assault ship Essex, were among 4,000 troops who came here to participate in exercises with Philippine troops. Afterward, they were granted shore leave at Subic Bay, which became a tourist center and industrial zone after its closure as a U.S. base 13 years ago.

According to the woman's complaint, she met the Marines at a bar called the Neptune Club. She had drinks with the men and, early Wednesday, went with them in a rented van driven by a hired local driver.

The woman alleged that she had been raped while the vehicle was in motion. She reportedly told police that she lost consciousness during the incident and does not know how many men raped her.

The woman was discovered by passersby who took her to police. According to press reports, investigators gathered evidence including a condom and a receipt for the van, including the license plate number, which led them to the driver.

The driver told police that the woman was very drunk and that at least one man had sex with her in the van as they drove around the sprawling former base.

In an interview Monday with GMA7 television station, the driver said he heard one Marine say, "I'm done," shortly before the men told him to pull over. Four Marines took the woman from the van and left her by the road, he said.

A U.S. official said the Marines were preparing to hire Philippine attorneys.

The incident has outraged women's groups as well as critics of the U.S. military presence in the Philippines. Some called Monday for scrapping the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows U.S. troops to conduct military exercises and anti-terrorism training there.

Critics also called for the Marines to be tried by a Philippine court. Under Philippine law, rape can be punished by death.

The case could be politically damaging to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, a supporter of the U.S. military presence who has been under pressure to resign because of allegations that she rigged last year's election.

It also could damage relations with the United States, which controlled the Philippines as a colony from 1898 until World War II and maintained a large military presence here until 1992.

Protests over the alleged attack have been held near the U.S. Embassy almost daily, and demonstrators have burned several American flags. On Monday, protesters called the U.S. the "No. 1 terrorist" and the "No. 1 rapist."

Ignacio Bunye, Arroyo's spokesman, said the alleged rape was an isolated incident that should not affect military cooperation with the United States. He noted that the Visiting Forces Agreement would allow prosecution of the Marines in a Philippine court.

"There will be no whitewash in the investigation," Bunye said.

Sen. Joker Arroyo, who called the Marines "sex terrorists," said the incident was part of a pattern of American military misconduct around the world that stemmed from the U.S. government's failure to "take the moral high ground."

"No wonder, despite their military victories in Afghanistan and Iraq, they are losing the fight against global terrorism because they have not matched their military victories with moral supremacy," the senator said.

Rep. Antonio Cuenco, who chairs the House committee on foreign affairs, said he did not think the incident would strain relations with the U.S.

"The United States is the foremost democratic country in the world," he said. "They will see to it that these errant boys will be punished."

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