Sunday, November 06, 2005

An outrage

Today's PDI editorial rightly called the incident at the Subic Bay Freeport last Nov. 1 and 2 an outrage:

THE ALLEGED rape of a vacationing college graduate from Zamboanga inside the Subic Bay Freeport during the holidays last week has provoked great public outrage and greater public interest. In part, that is because the young lady was said to be the victim of a group rape, inside a rented van and, in part, because the alleged rapists were US servicemen.

A rape, whether it is committed by a foreigner or a countryman, is one of the most terrible of crimes. But what allegedly happened in the late hours of Nov. 1 and the early hours of Nov. 2 cannot be dissociated from the identity of the alleged rapists. A rape is not only a crime against a person; it is also a crime of power, of unequal relations between victim and victimizer. The fact that the alleged rapists are American soldiers, running wild inside a former American naval base, makes their American-ness, in the context of our country's own history, an inescapable reality.

The trauma the young lady is going through at the moment is unbearably personal. But part of the public fascination with the case is the role Americans-former colonizers, once and future allies in the war on terrorism, current lone superpower-allegedly play in it. That is something the US Embassy, or indeed even MalacaƱang, cannot wish away.

To be sure, both the administration and the US authorities have thus far handled the matter in a praiseworthy manner.

The five American marines implicated in the crime have been detained; they were not allowed to leave with their warship last Thursday, and they remain in the custody of the US Embassy.

MalacaƱang has refused to lose its head on the issue. "This is a matter that is very well covered by the provisions of the [Visiting Forces Agreement], and we are letting the Department of Foreign Affairs handle this," Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita told reporters, reassuringly.

And the Department of Justice is studying the legal options open before it, including possibly submitting a request, under VFA provisions, for "transfer of jurisdiction."

The Olongapo city prosecutor's office has also taken an encouragingly active stance, even while acknowledging that because the VFA is in effect, the nature of the work facing the government has fundamentally changed: It has become a diplomatic rather than a criminal issue.

That said, we must belabor the obvious: The government must pursue the ends of justice regardless of the diplomatic or political costs (or indeed, regardless of whether the alleged victim testifies or not). As Sen. Rodolfo Biazon noted, remarking on the task of the presidential oversight committee and the legislative oversight committee on the VFA, it is the government's responsibility to make sure that the Philippines is not "unnecessarily" taken advantage of.

Perhaps, all he meant was that we should not be disadvantaged. There are reasons for thinking that a US hard line or a weak Palace position may lead to unhappy results. The first US Embassy statement on the issue missed the point entirely, saying visiting American soldiers are always under orders to observe "cultural sensitivity, proper behavior and respect for the law of the communities" being visited. This makes the alleged rape rather like a violation of a quaint local taboo; the last time we checked, rape is a universal crime. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez also has made discouraging noises, talking aloud when he should let the DFA do the talking.

Justice must be served; that is non-negotiable. If we will not stand up for one of our own, no ally would.

Another one

ON the front page yesterday, Brad Tiffany, "an American from New York staying in Manila," is shown arguing with members of a feminist group who staged a lightning rally in front of the US Embassy to condemn the alleged rape.

"She's a prostitute asking US servicemen for money," Tiffany argued. A foolhardy argument, and also a specious, morally bankrupt one. It assumes that the victim of the alleged group rape by American Marines last week was a sex worker (she wasn't). It assumes that sex workers cannot be raped (of course, they can, if the sex act is forced or done without their consent). Worst of all, it assumes that money excuses everything, even rape. (It doesn't.)

Meanwhile, the government issued a statement that the incident at Subic was an "isolated one":

Presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said the incident would not affect joint military exercises.

"This is the only case of this nature reported despite the many American troops who have participated in various joint exercises," Bunye said.

"We cannot say this is a pattern. We believe this is an isolated case and this should not affect our objective of holding joint exercises," he said.

I didn't know the Visiting Forces Agreement actually protects the US military from any legal or criminal liability for actions done during the "military exercises". That's very disturbing, I think, and is one reason why we should re-examine the VFA.
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