U.S. Marine sentenced to 40 years’ jail in landmark rape case in Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (AP) – A young U.S. Marine faces 40 years in jail after being convicted Monday of rape in a landmark case that has become a symbol for women’s rights and national sovereignty in the Philippines.

Makati Regional Trial Court Judge Benjamin Pozon rejected Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith’s claim that the woman was a willing partner, saying she was too drunk to have consented to having sex.

Three other Marines were acquitted of complicity for allegedly cheering on Smith in the back of a moving van.

As the verdict was delivered, cheers and applause broke out in the courtroom, and the 23-year-old woman began weeping as supporters embraced her. “I’m sad that three were acquitted, but I’m also happy because one was convicted,” the young woman, who is Filipino, told ABS-CBN television in a telephone interview.

But as the convicted Marine was exiting the courtroom, a scuffle broke out between U.S. Embassy guards and Philippines police as both tried to take Smith away, underscoring the territorial dimension in the case which has consistently made front pages in the past year with lurid details. Filipino guards eventually secured the Marine’s custody.

The U.S. Embassy had retained custody of Smith during the prosecution, in line with a treaty governing foreign troops in the former American colony after the closing of U.S. bases in the early 1990s. Although the joint military pact paved the way for U.S. counterterrorism training and was credited with helping local forces make gains against Muslim extremists, some Filipino groups have protested the 1998 pact, claiming it gives U.S. servicemen favorable treatment.

The 23-year-old woman accused Smith, who had just participated in joint military exercises, of forcing himself on her in the back of a moving van after a night of drinking at the former U.S. naval base at Subic Bay. She claimed three Marines cheered him on, before he dumped her on the street with her pants around her ankles.

Smith, 21, of St. Louis, countered that the young woman was a willing participant.

He was ordered to pay her $2,000 in compensatory and moral damages. The other three Marines were charged in the case, but were acquitted and immediately headed back to their unit in Okinawa, Japan, where they could still face military discipline.

The scuffle came as Smith was taken away in handcuffs to be fingerprinted and photographed and to undergo a medical exam. A Philippines police official said it appeared there had been a misunderstanding over whether Smith would remain in U.S. custody during a subsequent appeal. The judge ruled that he would be temporarily held in a Philippines jail in Makati, Manila’s financial district.

Zozimo Paredes, head of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement Commission, said the agreement is clear that Smith will have to stay in the Philippines until his appeals are exhausted. He may also have to serve his sentence in the country.

About 100 protesters gathered outside the courthouse, chanting and singing “Bayan Ko,” or “My Country,” a popular nationalist song. They waved a banner that demanded justice for the woman and the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement.