Battle Possible Over U.S. Marines
Date 2005/12/28 10:09:31 | Topic: World News
|Associated Press | December 28, 2005|
MANILA, Philippines - A possible battle looms over the custody of four U.S. Marines accused of raping a Filipino woman, a senior Philippine official said Wednesday.
Lawmakers and prosecutors on Wednesday urged the government to insist on custody of the four Americans to ensure they are arraigned and do not flee the country.
Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said the impression that he has from a statement issued by the U.S. Embassy on Tuesday was that American officials "will insist on custody during the trial."
He said Washington has not responded to Manila's Nov. 16 custody request, "but the picture has somehow changed with the indictment... You now have the court to reckon with."
"I suppose they will politely reject our request and if we are not satisfied, we can insist on negotiating on custody," he said, adding that "there could be" a custody battle.
The case, seen as a crucial test of an accord allowing American troops to train in the Philippines, will not affect bilateral ties, presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye said.
"The Philippine and U.S. governments are for the swift resolution of this isolated case, but always through the observance of due process," Bunye said in a statement. "Both governments have assured that whatever the outcome, it will not in any way affect the close ties and friendship that bind the two countries."
Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the U.S. can keep custody of its personnel until judicial proceedings are completed, but shall make them available for court appearances. In extraordinary cases, the Philippines can ask for custody, which the U.S. "shall take into full account."
Prosecutors on Tuesday filed rape charges against the four U.S. Marines and the Filipino driver of their rented van before a regional trial court in Olongapo, near the site of the alleged Nov. 1 rape.
"We want custody...because in our discussion with the Americans from (the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigation Service), they said that if these Americans leave the service, they have no hold on them anymore," June Ambrosio, one of woman's lawyers, told radio DZBB.
If they flee to the United States, extradition will be difficult and expensive, she added.
The men, who were on liberty after participating in joint exercises with Filipino forces, are in U.S. Embassy custody.
Katrina Legarda, another lawyer for the woman, said private prosecutors may file a motion for reconsideration of the dismissal of rape charges against two other U.S. Marines who were cleared in the case.