(VOICEOVER): A Philippine appeals court overturned the 2006 rape conviction of a US marine and ordered his immediate release on Thursday, setting off condemnations from activists to major newspapers across the country. A suburban Manila court convicted Lance Corporal Daniel Smith (pix of Smith) of raping a Filipino woman in the company of fellow Marines at the former US Subic Bay Naval base three years ago and sentenced him to life in prison. The US base was closed in 1992 on the insistence of the Philippines, but the US maintains a military presence there under a status of forces agreement with the country. The case has become a rallying point for anti-American protests in the country. (protesters holding placards reading: "Acquittal of Smith is a collusion between US and Philippine governments.") The Philippine Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, indicating the sexual act was consensual. "No evidence was introduced to show force, threat and intimidation applied by the accused," the court said in its 71-page decision, which is final. It ordered the immediate release of Smith, 23 years old, of St Louis, Missouri, from his detention at the US Embassy in Manila. Smith’s lawyer said his client "got the justice that he deserved," but activist groups condemned it, saying it was proof of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s subservience to America.
LOTLOT REQUIZA, PROTESTOR (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): "Our group is very angry about the acquittal of Daniel Smith because we know this is a collusion between the United States and the (Gloria) Macapagal-Arroyo government. What Gloria is doing is saddening and unfathomable because now Filipino women have no protection in their own country."
(VOICEOVER): In March, Nicole, the woman who accused Smith of rape altered her testimony and emigrated to the United States in a dramatic twist in the case, saying she was no longer certain that a crime had taken place. The Philippine Daily Inquirer, the largest newspaper in the country, reports that Evalyn Ursua, the lawyer who represented Nicole before the recantation, condemned the courts ruling.
TEXT ON SCREEN: “It was a sweet ending to a story line two allies have been writing all along.” Ursua said. She went on. She said–
(VOICEOVER) (TEXT ON SCREEN): “I see this as a culmination of a long pattern to make this case go away. We clearly see political maneuverings to make us lose this… The Philippine government never supported Nicole from day one. Everything just fits, falls into place… We already saw pressure from the US, the hand of the US from day one. We also saw how the Philippine government gave in to the pressure.”
The high-profile case prompted Washington to threaten to call off large-scale exercises with Manila until Smith was transferred to a detention center within the US Embassy. The lawyer, Ursua, took exception to part of the ruling that said the prosecution failed to prove force while Smith was with an intoxicated Nicole inside a moving van at the Subic Bay Freeport, a former US naval base. Ursua said–
(SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): “We do not agree with that because you have to take into context that Nicole was severely intoxicated. She tried to resist but she was too intoxicated,” said Ursua.
In the lower court, In proving rape against Smith, the prosecution had shown the evidence that Nicole was too drunk to have consensual sex when she was with Smith on the night of November 1, 2005. The appeals court found that it wasn’t rape, but a spontaneous, unplanned romantic episode stirred by alcoholic drinks. The reversal sets a discouraging precedent for other rape complainants, Ursua said.
VOIVEOVER (TEXT ON SCREEN): “It will discourage victims from reporting and pursuing their cases. This will influence trial courts in how they look at cases of similar circumstances, where the victims are in a state of intoxication,” said the lawyer.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer reports that Sen. Francis Pangilinan said he was disturbed by the ruling and wondered if Nicole’s “highly questionable recantation” had a heavy impact on the court.
(VOICEOVER) (TEXT ON SCREEN): “It must be remembered that the recantation of Nicole was facilitated by lawyers of the accused. One cannot help but wonder if all that was done in order to lay the groundwork for this acquittal. The acquittal raises more questions than answers.”
Sen. Francis Escudero said Smith’s acquittal was “unfortunate and only reinforces our position that the US Visiting Forces Agreement carries too high a social cost and should be immediately abrogated. We believe this is as good a time as any to act decisively and finally abrogate the VFA. The time for debate and discussion is over; how many Nicoles must there be for us to realize that sovereignty should be absolute and non-negotiable?
(VOICEOVER): He went on–
(TEXT ON SCREEN): “The issue of military security, which has long been the rationale for the VFA, takes second precedence to the more important issues of social welfare, the Filipina’s rights, and our national sovereignty,” he said.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.