A trial date for four U.S. Marines accused of raping a Filipino woman is expected to be set next week in a Philippine court.

The timeline will be up to the judge hearing the case but could be as soon as two to three weeks after the March 24 arraignment, said Olongapo city prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni.

“We are ready. I am eager to present all the witnesses,” Jalandoni, the case’s lead prosecutor, said Thursday.

On Wednesday, Judge Renato Dilag of the Regional Trial Court in Olongapo city, northwest of Manila, ordered the four Marines to appear in court next week to submit their pleas.

The accused, assigned to Okinawa but in the custody of the U.S. Embassy in Manila, are expected to plead not guilty. Dilag said he’ll request that the woman also be present but would proceed without her, according to The Associated Press.

The woman has not attended any judicial proceedings or met with prosecutors, Jalandoni said. Several weeks ago she also switched attorneys. In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer earlier this month, the 22-year-old college student from Zamboanga was quoted as saying she wants to see justice served.

“I am only fighting for my dignity and that of my family,” she was quoted in the March 6 story as saying. “I just hope people would support me in this struggle. Please don’t judge me too harshly. I’m only seeking justice.”

Prosecutors have accused Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith of raping the woman in a rented van on Nov. 1 at the former U.S. Naval base at Subic Bay, while the three other Marines cheered him on.

Jalandoni said trial witnesses for the prosecution will include security guards at a club who reported seeing Smith carrying the woman on his back to the van and a person who saw the woman dumped from the van on the side of the road.

Smith’s attorney, Benjamin Formoso of Manila, said, “There’s no evidence of rape, no evidence of gang rape. We’re ready for the arraignment.”

Philippine Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez still is reviewing petitions from Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier and Lance Cpls. Dominic Duplantis and Keith Silkwood, the three Marines accused of conspiring to rape. They’ve contended there’s no probable cause to charge them and want their cases dismissed. Gonzalez is expected to issue a decision by March 20. “Anything is possible,” Formoso said. “If they’re exonerated, then they’re out immediately.”

Jalandoni said under the U.S.-Philippines visiting forces agreement, the court has one year to complete the rape trial. Otherwise U.S. authorities could refuse to bring the defendants to court. There’s been some dispute as to when the clock began ticking on that one year: Dec. 27, when criminal court documents were filed, or when the trial begins.

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Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

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