Wednesday, November 16, 2005

US Troops Out Now! Bitayin ang mga rapists!


Katrina Legarda: This is more difficult than Jalosjos case
First posted 01:01am (Mla time) Nov 16, 2005
By Juliet Labog-Javellana
Inquirer News Service

SHE SENT a powerful congressman, Romeo Jalosjos, to prison on two life terms for raping an 11-year-old girl in 1996, but Katrina Legarda sees her newest case as a formidable challenge.

Unlike in the celebrated Jalosjos case where there was only one accused, the 22-year-old college graduate from Zamboanga who was allegedly raped by six US servicemen in a rented van in Subic on Nov. 1 is up against six defendants, each of whom "can have his own lawyer and can set up his own defense," Legarda told the Inquirer.

The complaint signed by the woman named five US servicemen and one John Doe. But Legarda said the woman recalled only five servicemen.

"This is not as easy as the Jalosjos case. This is much more difficult," Legarda said.

Legarda, head of the Child Justice League (CJL), has been tapped by the Department of Social Welfare and Development to represent the 22-year-old.

She will be backed by five fellow lawyers from the CJL and the Accra Law Firm, one of the leading law offices in the country.

"I'm not saying I'm pessimistic [about the Subic case], but this is going to be a long slog," said Legarda, who is providing pro bono or free legal services to the victim.

In the Jalosjos case, she said, it took all of 450 days from the arraignment to the sentencing in December 1997. And this involved daily hearings four times a week.

This is why Legarda is concerned about the one-year deadline under the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to resolve the case. She said it was hardly possible for a Philippine court to hand down a verdict in one year.

Political factor

And then there is the political factor, Legarda said.

While the 11-year-old girl went up against a wealthy and well-connected Zamboanga del Norte lawmaker, the woman from Zamboanga is fighting members of the military of the world's only superpower.

"What I told the family of the girl is that whatever happens, whether there will be a conviction or acquittal, the political fallout will be great," Legarda said.

She said Philippine officials would always protect RP-US relations, preserve Subic as a tourist haven and place for R&R (rest and recreation) of American military personnel -- and "allow the Bush administration to have anything [it wants]."

"In fact, the [police] in Subic are having difficulty in filing cases in the prosecution office [in Olongapo] because it tends to dismiss cases [against Americans]," Legarda said.

In a statement yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan expressed concern over the Subic case, saying 3,000 rape cases against Americans had been dismissed in the Olongapo City court.

This is why Legarda has requested the transfer of the hearings of the case from Olongapo to the Department of Justice (DoJ) office in Manila.

"We are all here in Manila, including the accused, so why should we have the case heard in Olongapo?" she said.

Formal request

Legarda formally asked Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez yesterday to transfer the case to the DoJ main office. But Gonzalez said on Monday that he was not inclined to do so.

"This request is being made in view of our previous experience with the Office of the City Prosecutor of Olongapo which culminated in the dismissal of rape and other sexual abuse cases," Legarda said in a letter-request.

She added: "To obviate this unfortunate turn of events, it has been our policy and practice to have the preliminary investigation of such cases conducted in the [DoJ]."

Legarda said she hoped Gonzalez would approve the request before the start of the preliminary investigation in Olongapo on Nov. 23.

She also pointed out that the Olongapo prosecutor could have conducted an inquest to immediately find out if there was probable cause against the suspects, but that the latter instead set the case for preliminary investigation.

"So this is going to be delayed, and [the process] would take longer," said CJL executive director Cristina Sevilla, who delivered the letter-request.

But earlier, Olongapo Prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni said an inquest could not be conducted because when he and his staff arrived at the Subic Bay Freeport, the US Embassy had already taken custody of the servicemen.


Legarda told the Inquirer that Philippine officials did not seem to know what rights the woman had and what help she could get under the terms of the VFA.

She said it was not even clear when the one-year deadline would begin.

Legarda also said some officials in Subic were protective of the Americans and were helping pressure the woman to drop the case.

"I heard -- and this is probably gossip -- that when [the woman] went to complain, someone [at the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority] said she should just settle the case," Legarda said.

But Legarda made it clear that it was not SBMA administrator Arman Arreza who had made such overtures.

"When [the woman] heard there were witnesses coming forward to help her, she rejected [the offer to settle]," Legarda said.

She said that as in other rape cases, she would not blame the woman if the latter decided to settle.

"But as of now, the [woman's] family is determined to fight," Legarda said.

She said the woman and her family were grateful for the support of many witnesses and sectors.

"I think she might [pursue the case], except that this is not an easy case," Legarda said.

On the basis of evidence

Asked if she felt that her client's case was strong, Legarda said: "All cases can [be lost or won] only on the basis of evidence. I don't want to say I will win or lose in this case."

She said one good aspect was that there were many witnesses who had come forward and who could still be tapped, unlike in the Jalosjos case where there was no witness.

The difficulty in the Subic case also comes from the fact that Legarda came in 10 days late, after the woman had submitted her sworn statement.

"In the Jalosjos case, we had the girl from Day One," Legarda said, adding:

"I'm OK with [the woman's] sworn statement, but she needs witnesses. There are certain things she did that needs corroboration."

Legarda said she had asked the women's and children's desk of the Subic police to do follow-up investigations and get the statements of at least nine more witnesses.

DNA samples

Legarda said she would also ask for DNA samples from the five identified servicemen for comparison with the sample from a used condom recovered from the scene.

She also said she was not certain whether she would get the help of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) in securing the DNA samples.

She noted that despite her request, she had yet to get photocopies of the identification cards and passports of the servicemen.

"The US will have to cooperate," Legarda said.

As in her other cases, Legarda is determined to apply all her legal skills to help the woman from Zamboanga.

She will be assisted by other female CJL lawyers: Minerva "June" Ambrosio, Cristina Sevilla, Diana Lee, Sheila Bazar and Amy Arellano.

But it won't be an all-woman legal team.

"What's good now is that the IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) has instructed Rogelio Vinluan of Accra Law to assist us. He is one of the best litigators in the country," Legarda said.

She said she was also hoping for one good-luck sign -- that Chief State Prosecutor Jovencito Zuño would be assigned special prosecutor for the Subic case.

Zuño was the state prosecutor for the Jalosjos case.

Not inclined to transfer case

On Monday, Gonzalez said he was not inclined to transfer the case to Manila unless the prosecutor handling the case in Olongapo showed any bias.

"There seems to be no reason [to transfer the case]. The prosecutor in Olongapo, so far, has shown that he is up to the job. So it would be unfair to just relieve him and transfer the case here," he said.

"As a general principle, it has got to be in Subic because that is where the supposed incident took place. That is jurisdictional according to the Rules of Court. Right now, I don't see why we should transfer. But we are not saying that it cannot be transferred," he said.

Gonzalez said he would remove City Prosecutor Jalandoni from the case only under "certain extraordinary situations," like "a show of bias one way or the other," or "some other reasons."

He said transferring the case to Manila at this time "would seem to indicate that we have lost confidence in him or whatever... " With a report from Philip C. Tubeza

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