Envoy: Rape case shouldn’t affect Philippines agreement
The U.S. ambassador to the Philippines does not believe the Daniel Smith rape case will affect the Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines.
In a statement reported by media in Manila on Wednesday, Ambassador Kristie Kenney said negotiations regarding where the Marine lance corporal should be held pending his appeal of his December 2006 conviction should not result in any changes to the entire agreement.
The Philippines Supreme Court ruled last month that Smith, who is being held on the grounds of the U.S. Embassy in Manila pending his appeal, should have been remanded to a Philippines jail. The court ruled the agreement allowing Smith’s transfer to the embassy compound did not follow the guidelines set forth in the bilateral Visiting Forces Agreement, known as the VFA.
"I don’t for the moment see a review of the VFA," Kenney said. "We’re working through one specific case. We should not confuse it with the entire VFA. It’s a little soon to talk about the VFA as a whole."
A U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Friday confirmed the accuracy of Kenney’s response to a reporter’s questions Wednesday.
"We’ve taken note of the Supreme Court decision," Kenney said. "There have been discussions both in Washington and here, but there are some issues still pending in that legal case. We are in good dialogue with the Philippines. It’s been a difficult three years, but we’re working together for this."
Her statement was made while new developments in the rape case have rocked the Philippines judicial establishment. On March 12, the 25-year-old woman who testified during the trial that Smith raped her, signed an affidavit stating she now doubts Smith actually raped her.
The woman, known publicly as "Nicole," has since moved to the U.S. with her American boyfriend, according to statements made by her mother.
Anti-VFA and women’s rights groups in the Philippines charge that the "Smith camp," somehow bought Nicole’s recantation. They also claim the recent revelation that an appeals court judge had filed a draft ruling last year that acquitted Smith was part of a publicity campaign to free Smith.
The appellate judge retired before his draft decision was reviewed by other justices, and a problem with finding judges to sit on the case — many recused themselves because of friendships with Smith’s lawyers — has delayed a decision for more than two years.
The Manila Times reported Wednesday that the draft is part of the case files.
Nicole’s affidavit and the appeals court draft ruling echo what Nicole told a Philippines lawmaker the day after the Nov. 1, 2005, incident, according to media reports.
Mitos Magsaysay, a member of the House of Representatives from Nicole’s home district, said she was one of the first people to speak to Nicole after the incident.
"Based on her narration, and the interviews I made with her sister, her cousin, other witnesses at the Neptune Bar (where she and Smith had been dancing and drinking with friends), and the driver of the van … I concluded that no rape took place," Magsaysay was quoted as saying by the Philippine Star.
She told the newspaper that people with an agenda against the U.S. military "took over and influenced her."
The rape case has stirred emotions in the Philippines. On Wednesday, about 100 demonstrators protesting against the VFA clashed with police at the U.S. Embassy in Manila, and 40 people were reported injured, although none seriously.
Manila police beefed up security outside the embassy soon after Nicole’s affidavit became public.
"Peaceful protests are a normal part of a vibrant democracy that respects the right of free speech," said embassy spokeswoman Rebecca Thompson in an e-mail response to queries by Stars and Stripes Thursday.
"We depend on the Philippine authorities to provide protection so that the public and diplomats can come and go safely and freely from the Embassy grounds."