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GINOWAN, Okinawa — Supporters of the Filipina who claims she was raped by a soldier on Okinawa in February are confident the U.S. Army is serious about investigating the incident.

But they wish Japanese prosecutors had gone forward with the case.

"We believe they should not have surrendered jurisdiction," said Liza Maza, leader of the Gabriela Women’s Party and a Philippines legislator. She referred to the Okinawa case and an alleged gang-rape case involving Marines stationed at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni last year.

"As we can see in recent rape cases involving servicemembers, [the Japanese] tend now not to prosecute and instead pass the cases on to the U.S. military," she said. "They disregarded their duty to take jurisdiction.

"As for the Army — it’s too early to tell what will happen," she said. "I believe there will be some legal action, but probably not a charge of rape. I have some reservations because the perpetrator is one of their own."

Maza is on Okinawa for a five-day mission to lend support to Hazel, not her real name, who said she was raped in an Okinawa City hotel room Feb. 18 by Sgt. Ronald Hopstock Jr., 25.

Hopstock, assigned to the 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Regiment on Kadena Air Base, is restricted to the base pending an investigation initiated by the Army in mid-May, after Japanese prosecutors, citing a lack of evidence, declined to indict him.

Maza said she has not met with Army officials.

Army officials declined to comment on the case because it is still under investigation.

During an interview Saturday at Maehara Catholic Church in Ginowan, Maza said she was also looking into the plight of other young women from the Philippines who, like Hazel, come to Okinawa to work as dancers only to discover they are forced to be bar hostesses and prostitutes.

At the church Saturday, Hazel said she was interviewed by Army investigators for eight hours. The most recent session was Friday.

"I think they want to do their best," she said, speaking in Tagalog to Maza. "I have mixed feelings. I only have bad feelings to the one who did this to me. But, I also know it is the Americans who are helping me to get some justice."

She said she does not think about her future.

"All I want now is justice — for me and also justice for the other women," she said. "I don’t want this to happen to anyone."

Sitting next to her was her mother, Melly, who made the trip to Okinawa with Maza. Melly said she was devastated when she first heard about the alleged rape.

"I felt like I was dying, everything was dark and I didn’t know what to do," she said, with Maza interpreting. "Now, after being with my daughter, I feel better. I know some peace and can sleep."

Maza said she was disappointed in the lack of support Hazel received from Philippines officials in Japan.

"This incident happened on Feb. 18 and we understand that our government did not even hire a lawyer for her until three days before the decision of the Japanese prosecutors to drop the case," she said. "All that time, she was talking to police and prosecutors without any legal advice."

Maza said she raised her concerns with the Philippines Embassy in Tokyo. "Every official I spoke to just passed the buck, saying the lack of attention was someone else’s fault."

Lusito "Butch" Pongos, a coordinator for Migrante Japan, an organization supporting the rights of Philippine foreign workers, said the Philippines government often fails to brief its citizens on what to expect when they leave for jobs overseas.

"If you’re going out of the country on a contract — as a dancer, for example, like Hazel — you’re supposed to attend a predeparture orientation seminar," he said. "In Hazel’s case that was totally absent. If she had been briefed, she would have known that under Japanese law a dancer is supposed to have graduated from dance school or had two years’ experience in order to come here.

"In Hazel’s case, all her paperwork obviously had to have been fabricated," he said. "Her situation comes down to the culpability of our own government. This incident would not have happened if there was adequate protection from our government."

He also struck out at the Japanese government, which he claims punishes the women, but not the bar owners who hire them. For example, as he and Maza spoke to reporters Saturday morning, three Filipinas were in the process of being deported from Japan. Like Hazel, they were here as professional dancers, but they were caught sitting with customers during a raid of an Okinawa City bar two weeks ago.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.


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