- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 27, 2005

OLONGAPO, Philippines — Philippine prosecutors charged four U.S. Marines with rape yesterday in a case seen as a test of a bilateral accord that allows American troops to train here.

Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni said in court documents that one of the Marines raped a 22-year-old woman in November inside a van at Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base northwest of Manila, as fellow Marines cheered him on to the beat of loud music.

Another prosecutor, Raymond Viray, said the case would be a crucial test for the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows American forces to conduct counterterrorism maneuvers with Philippine troops. Critics have expressed concerns that U.S. officials would use the accord to shield the Marines from prosecution.

Under the agreement, the U.S. government would not be obligated to turn the Marines over if judicial proceedings take longer than a year.

U.S. Embassy officials have said they would cooperate with the Philippine government in the investigation but have not indicated whether they would transfer the Marines to Philippine custody, as requested by prosecutors. The four Marines have denied the accusations.

The Marines had just taken part in a counterterrorism exercise in the northern Philippines and were on leave at the time of the Nov. 1 incident.

Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith and the three others, as well as the woman, had been drinking at a bar and were rushing back to the USS Essex to beat a curfew, Mr. Jalandoni said.

“The complainant claimed that she was forced, although the answering respondents claimed that the sexual congress was consensual,” he said. “We believe that the victim was raped. She was screaming and struggling against Smith at the time.”

Also charged were Lance Cpl. Keith Silkwood, Lance Cpl. Dominic Duplantis and Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier. Information about their hometowns was not available.

The Americans have denied participating in or witnessing the incident. Some said in written statements that they saw Cpl. Smith and the woman kissing and petting in the van’s back seat, but indicated there was no sign of struggle by the woman, Mr. Jalandoni said.

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