Okinawa troops react to Philippines rape case
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Reaction from Okinawa servicemembers ranged from anger and disbelief to concern for the Marine Corps’ reputation Thursday, as six Marines await their legal fate in the Philippines after accusations from a woman that she was raped.
Servicemembers also said they hoped the six Okinawa-based Marines attached to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit would be treated fairly despite ongoing protests since the Nov. 1 incident at Subic Bay.
The U.S. Embassy, which has custody of the Marines under the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement, has refused to identify them but has promised to cooperate in the investigation
Congresswoman Milagros Magsaysay, whose district includes part of Subic — a former Navy base that’s now an industrial and tourism estate — told The Associated Press she spoke with the alleged rape victim Wednesday. She said the woman claimed she was raped inside a van as it was driven through Subic, but that she couldn’t remember details because she passed out.
Servicemembers in Okinawa should not turn their back on the six Marines under suspicion, said a Navy hospitalman who knows some of the Marines involved.
“I don’t think what is in the newspapers is how it happened,” said Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Jason Galleguillos. “I don’t think they raped her. They’re still Marines, they’re still ambassadors … and they understand that.”
Other Marines expressed willingness to wait before passing judgment but said if the Marines did rape the 22-year-old Philippine woman, who reportedly was vacationing at a Subic Bay Resort, it shouldn’t be taken lightly.
“They should be held responsible for what they did and what they chose to do, if it really happened,” said Lance Cpl. Julian Bennett, 20.
While he hopes the accusations are not true, Bennett says, it isn’t hard for him to imagine that such an event could have occurred.
Past incidents on Okinawa have resulted in curfews and other liberty restrictions aimed at keeping Marines on base, especially late at night and on weekends.
Those same restrictions may not exist during deployments. But even group punishments do not ensure that every Marine acts as he or she should, Bennett said.
“Of course, Marines like to party,” the lance corporal said. “But the whole mass punishment thing, I don’t agree with that. Even with all kinds of restrictions, Marines will find ways if they want to do something stupid.”
Bennett and others said they worried about the Marine Corps’ image abroad after yet another rape accusation. “(Our image) is always getting bashed,” said Pfc. Harrison Stow, 21.
There is no simple answer to improving the image, Stow and others said. The most important thing Marines can do is to remain vigilant at all times and watch their fellow servicemembers, said Cpl. Pitlon Jongsamran.
Officials on Okinawa will continue to track the fate of the six Marines in question, said 2nd Lt. Clint Gebke, Marine Corps spokesman.
“The Marine Corps takes these allegations very seriously and is working closely with the Philippines on the investigation,” Gebke said.
Amid the allegations, a senior American diplomat is to hold two days of talks in the Philippines, officials said.
Eric G. John, deputy assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, was to arrive on Thursday to take part in discussions at the Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs, the U.S. Embassy said in a statement, without elaborating.
The alleged rape has stirred emotions in the former American colony, with left-wing activists calling for Manila to scrap an agreement with Washington that allows American troops to train in the country.
Despite almost daily protests in front of the U.S. Embassy, both governments have expressed confidence that the case will not affect the strong political, economic and military ties between the two countries.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.