YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

Tug of war in Philippines over U.S. Marine convicted of rape

Filipinos are angered that Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, who has an appeal pending, is being held at the U.S. Embassy compound, in conditions far different from what he'd face in a Philippine prison.

March 16, 2009|Paul Watson

MANILA — Philippine prisons are better known for rats and vicious gangs than diplomatic niceties, which is why people here are angry that an American Marine convicted of rape is doing his jail time in the dignified U.S. Embassy.

Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith was convicted in December 2006 of raping a 22-year-old Filipina a year earlier after they had been drinking in a bar in Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base north of Manila.

American officials say Smith, whose unit was deployed here for counter-terrorism training, has been under Marine guard at the U.S. Embassy compound since Philippine authorities transferred him there from a Manila jail weeks after he was convicted.

Last month, the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that Smith should be returned to the custody of local authorities, saying that an accord between U.S. Ambassador Kristie Kenney and Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo that had allowed Smith's move to the embassy violated the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two countries. Critics of the 1999 agreement say it is full of loopholes. They also argue that it should be scrapped as unconstitutional, a claim the Supreme Court rejected.

The justices ordered Romulo to negotiate with the U.S. ambassador "for the proper agreement on detention facilities under Philippine authorities."

But almost a month later, U.S. officials say they are still studying the judgment, which many Filipinos see as an attempt to subvert justice.

The case is fueling opposition to President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, whose popularity is sinking under allegations of corruption, economic mismanagement and the intensifying insurgency in the south.

"This is not merely ignoring the rights of a Filipino woman who has been assaulted," said Luzviminda Ilagan, a member of the Philippine Congress, "but the message is also that we are still subservient to the policies of the American government."

The victim's lawyer, Evalyn Ursua, said she has asked the embassy to prove that Smith was still in custody at the compound, by letting her see the Marine and the conditions of his detention.

But the embassy has not responded, Ursua said.

Said Ilagan: "He is being given the soft treatment. The American Embassy is not a jail. He would have an air-conditioned room, and I suppose he would be free to go around the embassy, unlike in a Philippine jail."

Embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson declined a reporter's request for details of Smith's living quarters and movements.

She said that Smith was "in confinement on the grounds of the embassy compound and he is under guard by the U.S. Marine Corps at all times." He is the only person to be detained at the embassy in the decade that the Visiting Forces Agreement has been in effect, she said.

"We've, of course, taken note of the Supreme Court decision and it concerns important legal issues," Thompson said. "And so we've referred it to the legal experts in Washington."

U.S. officials are also "in discussions with Philippine authorities," said Thompson, who declined to characterize the talks as negotiations.

Senior Philippine official Marius Corpus, with the Interior Department, says he visited Smith in the embassy last week. He told reporters that the Marine, who was allowed to work and exercise on the compound, was losing weight.

"In his area of confinement, he does clerical jobs and some paperwork to keep his mind busy. I recommended more physical exercise; otherwise, he might have a heart attack there," Corpus said.

The Visiting Forces Agreement states that Philippine authorities have jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel who commit crimes here, unless they are crimes under U.S. military law or against other U.S. service members.

But the agreement adds that when U.S. authorities ask for jurisdiction over suspects "to maintain good order and discipline among their forces," Philippine authorities will waive their right "except in cases of particular importance to the Philippines."

And the U.S. military can have custody over servicemen "until completion of all judicial proceedings," the agreement says. Smith is appealing his rape conviction.

Yet the justices concluded in their 19-page decision that the deal to hold him at the U.S. Embassy until his appeal is heard does not comply with the Visiting Forces Agreement, "because such detention isn't by Philippine authorities."

If the Marine's conviction is upheld, he faces 20 to 40 years in prison, Ursua said.

Smith, of St. Louis, came to the Philippines with his Marine unit for a joint military exercise on the southern island of Mindanao, where American forces are assisting Philippine troops in an escalating war against Islamic insurgents. Some of the southern extremists are allied with Al Qaeda.

He was convicted of raping his victim in the back of a van after drinking with the woman and her stepsister at a bar.

Smith insisted that he and the woman had consensual sex. A doctor who examined the victim said that he had found bruises consistent with rape, but acknowledged that they could have resulted from consensual sex involving some "brutality."

In convicting the Marine, the trial judge concluded that the woman "resisted his kisses, pushed him and fought him back until she lost consciousness because of alcoholic drinks she had taken."

Three other Marines, Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier, Lance Cpl. Keith Silkwood and Lance Cpl. Dominic Duplantis, who were in the van with Smith and allegedly cheered him on during the sexual assault, were acquitted of complicity.

The van's Philippine driver was also acquitted.


Los Angeles Times Articles