Philippines: churches protest after court frees convicted rapist

 Church rights activists have joined other protesters in expressing outrage at the acquittal of a 24 year-old US Marine previously convicted of rape.

Three women judges of the Court of Appeals panel on April 23 overturned Lance Corporal Daniel Smith's previous conviction in a suburban Manila court. He had been found guilty of raping a Filipino woman, identified by the code name 'Nicole' 21, in the company of fellow Marines at the northern Philippines Subic Bay Freeport in 2005.

Smith was sentenced to 40 years in prison and the issue became entangled in the controversy over the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) under which the US maintains a military presence in the country.

Benedictine Sister Mary John, a member of Gabriela, a national women's rights network, and co-chairperson of the Association of Major Religious Superiors in the Philippines, called the court decision 'blatant manipulation.'

Speaking on Church-run Veritas 846 radio, she said she believed Nicole's changed testimony was part of a 'script' crafted by the US government with Filipino officials to free Smith. The decision to acquit Smith is especially sad because it was issued by women, the nun said.

Nicole shocked supporters by recanting her accusations last month, saying she had possibly lost her inhibitions and become intimate with the Smith after drinking.

The Court of Appeals said they did not take Nicole's changed statement into account in issuing the verdict.

Good Shepherd Sister Maureen Catabian, head of her order's Women Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation office, told UCA News of her initial outrage over Nicole's statement.

The nun said she felt Nicole was 'selling out the dignity of Filipino women' but then later realized Nicole 'was just a scapegoat' for her anger at 'a morally decadent government system.'

"The system is morally bankrupt and so servile to foreign powers that it cannot even defend itself from such debasing abuse," she said.

Archbishop Angel Lagdameo of Jaro, President of the bishops¹ conference, told reporters the recantation had put the Philippine justice system in an embarrassing situation.

However, a government official welcomed Nicole's decision to 'move on.'

"Personally, I do not see how she could move on with her life if she did not act to withdraw from the case," Emilyn Verzosa, from the government¹s National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, said.

"She would never be allowed to move on, being at the centre of the appeals process and at the forefront of the battle against the Visiting Forces Agreement."

American Jesuit priest Father James Reuter, who has counseled Smith since he was arrested, said he was 'extremely happy' with the appeal court¹s decision.

The 92-year-old priest said that Smith 'has a spirit that is never down, he is not angry or vindictive and has never been depressed, but understood he is a pawn in a fight against the VFA.'

Smith left the Philippines soon after the court decision.

Source: UCAN

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