Like thieves in the night

(N.B. This is Teresita Ang See’s Beats and Bytes column in Tulay, a Chinese-Filipino digest published by Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran. The author is an awardee of The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service [TOWNS], one of the many organizations helping Nicole.)

Faust sold his soul to the devil for short-term personal gain. The Philippine government seems close to doing the same.By agreeing to give the United States custody of convicted rapist, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, the Philippine government has practically sold out the country’s sovereignty. The convoluted logic given by Malacañang spokespeople: The move is better than a pardon for Smith, and it will ensure continuation of the joint military exercises. Excuse me? These statements raise two sore points.

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Wimps We Are Not

Originally published in Tulay, a Chinese-Filipino fortnightly by Kaisa Para sa Kaunlaran. This was taken from Teresita Ang See’s Beats & Bytes column in the paper’s July 18, 2006 issue. Posted with permission from the author.

Attending the trial of the Subic rape case at the Makati regional trial court has been a valuable experience, even for a veteran of court hearings like me. There are sad, harrowing and heart-wrenching moments, but also enlightening, funny and light moments.

You learn to appreciate how rich the Filipino language is. How do you translate bakay-bakay and nakalungayngay into English?

You get to appreciate how truth, honesty and a sense of justice make witnesses surface and testify, against the advice of well-meaning friends.

Nicole, the 22-year-old rape victim, is determined in her quest for justice against an American marine who raped her and three others who not only failed to come to her aid but even egged the accused to perform the bestial act. Nicole has positively identified Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith as the rapist. The driver of the van where she was raped has likewise identified Smith as the rapist and confirmed that Smith was cheered on by Lance Cpls. Dominic Duplantis, Keith Silkwood and Chad Carpentier during the sexual assault.

Nicole comes from a decent family. She is a management graduate from the Ateneo de Zamboanga [sic]. She and her sibling were invited to Subic by family friend Chris Mills, also a U.S. Marine. The only “crime,” if that can be called of Nicole’s action, is she dared go to the jungle that is Subic to have fun. She’s young, she’s “promdi (from the province),” she’s naïve. In her testimony, she said she never expected to pay such a costly and unexpected price for daring to have fun with people whom she trusted and felt comfortable with—the U.S. soldiers.

***

Nicole burst into tears five times when she took the witness stand for the first time last July 6 and gave a nearly four-hour testimony. The next day’s hearing had to be postponed because Nicole was suffering from post-traumatic stress. When she resumed her testimony on July 10, Nicole again broke down in tears as she recounted her painful experience. There will be many more really difficult and distressing times ahead of her.

I’ve seen many kidnap victims break down on the witness stand, especially under the senseless grilling of defense counsels. A defense lawyer once asked Sheryl, a kidnap victim, “Oh, so you even played tong-its with your abductors, that means kaibigan mo sila, hindi ka biktima.” The victim cried and lashed out, “Ilang araw na akong hostage, halos masiraan na ako ng bait. Nung tinuruan nila akong mag-tong-its, ipinagpasalamat ko pa yon dahil kahit panandalian, nakalimutan kong baka maya-maya lang eh wala na akong buhay. Ngayon kasalanan ko pa pala iyon?”

The hearing had to be suspended because Sheryl became hysterical and couldn’t stop crying.

I also recall how Jacky, tears pouring down her face, recounted to the court the conversation she had with her father during her captivity: She had asked him for his and her family’s forgiveness if she had done them any wrong, thanked them for taking care of her, and told them not to blame themselves if she were killed by the kidnapers. There was no dry eye in court; even Jacky’s father broke down. He recalled that it was after hearing his daughter say goodbye that he agreed to pay the P10million ransom to kidnapers.

These stories are multiplied many times over by the many silent hapless victims.

***

True, there are many other rape cases. Nicole’s lead counsel, Evalyn Ursua, and psychiatrist, Dr. June Lopez, revealed that they sometimes handle half a dozen cases at a single time. But what makes Nicole’s case special? It is because it was a foreigner, a trained soldier who raped an innocent probinsyana on our own shores.

The accused are trained Marines who employed brute force and dared abuse Filipinos because they know that with the country’s mendicant foreign policy, the crime may draw a political rather than a judicial decision. Even Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez already showed bias in favor of the Marines early on in the case.

On the victim’s side, social activist groups like the University of the Philippines Women’s Studies, the Philippine General Hospital Women’s Desk, Gabriela, Abanse Pinay have come to her support. Professionals, businesswomen and other discerning women, not just activist groups, have also taken up the cudgels for Nicole.

***

Sen. Letty Shahani, who attends the hearings regularly, noted that in the courtroom, the agencies of the U.S. government are in full force. The American Embassy with ranking officers and local staff, their own media, their allies in the Philippine government and other experts in cloak-and-dagger operations give sustained support for the U.S. Marines and even pay for their private counsels. Contrast that with our own policemen and soldiers who are accused in court. They are often left to fend for themselves after trying to do their jobs for the country. Contrast that with the accused Chinese nationals in many of the courtrooms. Never have I ever encountered an embassy personnel helping the victims, even in the simple task of acting as interpreter.

As Shahani pointed out to the TOWNS (The Outstanding Women in the Nation’s Service) to which she and this author belong: “In effect, the story of Nicole is the story of our people—innocent, trusting about foreigners, hospitable to a fault. Filipinos meet tragedy in international relations when the relationship with foreigners goes beyond friendship and the happy hour and when power, violence, dominance over the other are introduced. The Filipino is too unsophisticated to fight back, too tiny to overcome, too traumatized to match the toughness of the system. This is why we should all help in the case of Nicole. Rape is sexual violence against the will of the victim. Being drunk, being immoral (which Nicole is not) does not justify rape.”

She succinctly explained our mendicant foreign policy: “What is at stake here is not just the dignity and worth of another innocent probinsyana but our pride as a people and a nation. In the International Herald Tribune of July 8-9, p.6, there is an article entitled, ‘Unusual apology for rape issued by top US officials.’ The first paragraph opens thus: Baghdad: The U.S. Ambassador and the top U.S. military commander here have together issued an unusual apology for the rape and murder of a young Iraqi woman and the killing of her family, saying that the crime, in which at least four soldiers are suspects, had injured the ‘Iraqi people as a whole.’ Are we, Filipinos, such wimps? I hope not!”

***

It is the height of insensitivity and callousness to make Nicole’s pain a laughing matter.

That was why I couldn’t stop reacting after I saw Smith and Duplantis laughing with their Filipina assistant private counsel. The Judge Benjamin Pozon had to suspend the trial because Nicole had become hysterical. “Naiisip ko sana mamatay na lang ako,” she wailed.

When I stood up after the Judge left the court and saw Smith and Duplantis discussing something with their Filipina assistant private counsel and laughing, I said, within hearing of their Filipino security, “Aba, may gana pang magtawa ang mga gago!”

The security personnel stood up and I thought it was to admonish the two accused. But he didn’t and when I saw the accused continue their joyful conversation in the midst of Nicole’s painful sobbing, I couldn’t stand it and told the U.S. Embassy personnel, “Can you tell those two guys to stop laughing.”

I got even more shocked when the two just smirked at me while the embassy personnel asked, “Why who are they laughing at?” Actually, at that point, I didn’t know what was more shocking, seeing the accused laughing or seeing the Filipina assistant private counsel laugh with them.