On December 4, 2006, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith of the US Marines was convicted of raping a 23 year-old Filipina, known as "Nicole", in the back of a van in Subic, Philippines while three other Marines cheered him on. The conviction carries a forty-year prison sentence for Smith, but the sentence of the victim, "Nicole", since the start of her ordeal is worse, and tragically reflects the tradition of Philippines- US relations on these types of issues.
The conviction of Lance Corporal Smith by A Philippine Court, was a landmark decision for this type of crime; US Military personnel versus Filipino citizens. In the era of Subic Bay Naval Base and Clark Air Force Base meaningful punishment for US personnel was rarely applied for crimes committed. The process of dealing with those of the US Military who committed crimes on Philippine soil was for the accused to be turned over to US Base authorities by the Philippine police ... end of story. The accused would never face charges in Philippine courts and would face, as their punishment, rotation out of the Philippines, case closed. From a Philippine perspective, whose courts have archived thousands of unresolved cases associated with this process, this became unacceptable once the Marco’s regime fell in 1986 and Aquino, with Raul Manglapus as her Foreign Affairs Minister, came to power.
Manglapus, viewed the thousands of unresolved cases, including rape, assault, manslaughter, murder, robbery, destruction of property, as a major issue to be addressed when it came time to renegotiate the expiring 1947 Military Bases Agreement in 1990 – 1991. Manglapus wanted the Philippines to have jurisdiction over US Military personnel who committed criminal acts on Philippine territory, from an American perspective this was non-negotiable. The issue of Philippine jurisdiction, as well as reclassification of US Aid for the Bases as rent resulted in an impasse that was broken by the providential eruption of Mount Pinatubo on June 12, 1991, which damaged both Clark and Subic Bases considerably, hastening their closing, and putting an end to the official use of the Philippines for American bases.
The victim at the heart of this issue, "Nicole" was not some innocent farm girl lacking previous exposure to Americans. She had a boyfriend in the Marine Corp stationed in Japan, and she had traveled from her home, Zamboanga, in the southern Philippines with her half-sister, to Subic at the invitation of another Marine, a friend, who paid for her lodging at a hotel. On November 1, 2005, "Nicole" had been partying with the Marines at a club and got drunk. "Nicole" left the club with Smith, allegedly carrying her to the van where the rape took place. "Nicole" was dumped, half naked, by the side of the road after the rape. Lance Corporal Smith claimed it was ‘consensual sex’ that occurred, a medical examination indicated otherwise.
When "Nicole" pressed charges she became the focus of ridicule. On the floor of the Philippine Senate, a male Senator who was attempting to discredit her claim accused her of being a prostitute. This attack the victim policy has been commonplace for decades in the areas surrounding the US bases, where if a Filipina claimed an American Service man raped her she needed to prove to the authorities she wasn’t a prostitute. This test alone would prevent many women from reporting rape, for the Philippines is a nation where a sense of shame is a powerful part of the culture.
The history of the relationship between the American Serviceman and the Filipina has its roots in the Spanish American war, when US forces landed in the Philippines to fight the Spanish and then the Insurgents of Aguinaldo. Professional soldiers were few in that era and the ranks of soldiers were filled with volunteers, more suited for Indian Wars, and National guardsmen of various degrees of training and discipline. When the stay in the tropics became prolonged and the soldiers started to become insubordinate, the War Department, in 1899, allowed the creation of a Military Brothel in Manila, to give the troops an outlet in controlled environs. This was the beginning of a military tradition that exists to this day. The towns adjacent to Clark Air Base, Angeles City, and Subic Bay Naval Base, Olongapo, were developed as R&R destinations for US troops, and served that function from the end of WWII until the closing of the bases in 1992. Although prostitution is illegal in the Philippines, at its peak, Olongapo sported over 300 bars that employed 16,000 registered and another estimated 10,000 unregistered "hospitality girls". That some girls were "registered" was an example of complicity in the prostitution industry of US Military Base Commanders and the corrupt Filipino governments of Olongapo and Angeles, "Registered" bargirls were given weekly checkups for VD and other communicable diseases, and in the 1980’s the girls were required to have AIDS tests twice a month. Girls that were given a clean bill of health had a little card with their picture and date of latest checkup they could pin to their bikini or costume, and show potential customers if they asked. US Military personnel weren’t required to carry similar cards to verify their health status, as if you didn’t guess that already. Clubs that employed unregistered girls were branded "off limits" to servicemen, one wonders if as accurate auditing of ordinance within the bases occurred as the tracking of Bargirls health cards outside the perimeter fence. In a complete act of collusion, the US Military supported clinics that provided health services to Bargirls, including penicillin shots, pregnancy tests and abortions.
To be sure, Lance Corporal Smith during his time as a Marine was aware of the types of relationship servicemen and Filipinas could have. Had he gone to Magsaysay Avenue he probably could have found a willing girl with whom to party, and avoided a 40 year prison sentence for rape and "Nicole" could have avoided a lifetime of ridicule, especially since the Philippine Press in all of it’s wisdom decided to release her real name, which I won’t do here.
For those who are concerned for the well being of Corporal Smith, fear not, for he does have a silent benefactor watching his back through all of this, the United States Government. When he was convicted, Smith was to be remanded to the Philippine Police for incarceration, as he awaited the appeals process, this however, did not sit well with the US Government who wanted Smith turned over to US Embassy custody while he exhausts his appeals. In the dead of night, Dec 29, 2006 the Foreign Affairs Minster of the Philippines, Romulo and US Ambassador, Kenney cut a deal and, over the objections of "Nicole’s" legal staff, Smith was turned over to the US Embassy. If history is a guide to this sort of thing, Smith will be back in the US soon and won’t ever serve his sentence. In order to leverage the release of a convicted rapist, the Philippines were warned by the US Embassy that US mercy medical and relief missions to typhoon victims might suffer should the Philippines fail to cooperate in Smith’s release. In addition, a threat was extended to cancel the joint Balikatan military exercises, which would have been a financial hardship on the Philippines. Since the joint exercises focus were to improve cooperation and coordination between the Philippines and the US in fighting the War on Terror, its remarkable that the Bush Administration would be willing to terminate the exercise to secure the release of, again, a convicted rapist.
So why has the rape of "Nicole" and conviction of Lance Corporal Smith for the crime worthy of US strong-arm tactics against the Philippines? One reason is that the US needs the Philippines to remember it place, and do what is expected of it. The Philippines drew the ire of the Bush administration by being one of the first members of the "Coalition of the Willing" to withdraw its forces in order to secure the release of a kidnapped Filipino contractor. Seems Filipinos don’t like seeing their countrymen beheaded. The US preferred the day when it would say, "Jump!" and the Philippines would say "How High?" The breaking with the coalition followed by a desire to see justice for their own citizens when foreigners abuse them is a slippery slope towards self-determination for the Philippines the US can’t tolerate. The US wants to remind the women of the Philippines that if a member of the US Military is raping you learn to enjoy it. The US also wants to send a message to American troops that we are there for you and will support you, even if you are guilty of a crime, just don’t ask for medical care when you are wounded.
I hope "Nicole" can weather this ordeal and somehow resume a normal life. I hope when Lance Corporal Smith beats his wrap and returns to the US he is put on a registry for sexual predators so at least the daughters of his neighbors are safe, and I wish the American people would open their eyes and try to understand why increasing numbers of the World’s population hate them.