- The Washington Times - Monday, December 4, 2006

MANILA — A U.S. Marine was convicted yesterday and sentenced to 40 years in prison in a landmark rape case that was hailed as a victory for women’s rights and Philippine independence from its former colonial power.

In a decision televised live nationwide, three other Marines were acquitted of complicity after a long, emotional trial that resurrected debate about the U.S. military presence in the Philippines.

The case has tested a joint military pact that paved the way for U.S. counterterrorism training credited with helping local forces make gains against Muslim extremists in the country’s south. Leftist groups have staged regular protests outside the U.S. Embassy, saying the American servicemen were getting special treatment that undercut the country’s sovereignty.

A scuffle briefly broke out between U.S. Embassy security personnel and local police officers over who would take custody of Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith after his conviction as his three fellow Marines walked free. All four men have been in U.S. Embassy custody, in line with the Visiting Forces Agreement, but Philippine police took Smith away in handcuffs to be fingerprinted, photographed and given a medical check.

A Philippine police official said it appeared there had been a misunderstanding over whether Smith would remain in U.S. custody during an appeal. The judge ruled that he would be jailed temporarily in Makati, Manila’s financial district.

Zosimo Paredes, head of the Philippines’ VFA Commission, said the agreement is clear that after all appeals are exhausted, Smith would be detained in the Philippines.

“The court maintained an even keel despite the tremendous pressures upon the bench. We have shown the world that due process is a hallmark of Philippine democracy,” said Ignacio Bunye, spokesman for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

“The outcome of this case will not in any way affect Philippine-U.S. relations, for it is not about diplomatic relations but about universal justice and the rule of law,” he added.

A 23-year-old Philippine woman accused Smith of sexually assaulting her while she was drunk on Nov. 1, 2005, and said he was cheered on by Staff Sgt. Chad Carpentier, Lance Cpl. Keith Silkwood and Lance Cpl. Dominic Duplantis.

Smith, 21, from St. Louis, testified that the sex was consensual.

He was ordered to pay the woman $2,000 in damages.

The court’s ruling makes him the first American service member to be convicted of wrongdoing since the Philippine Senate ordered U.S. bases shut down in the early 1990s and joint training was established under a treaty, the Visiting Forces Agreement, in 1998.

“I’m sad that three were acquitted, but I’m also happy because one was convicted,” the woman told ABS-CBN television in a telephone interview.

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