Nicole gets justice
One of the four American Marines charged with rape of a 22 year old Filipino woman (with a court assigned pseudonym "Nicole") in Subic Freeport was convicted by a Makati City court of rape. Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was sentenced to reclusion perpetua with a jail term of 20 to 40 years. The other three soldiers were acquitted as the court did not find evidence to convict them.
The case has strained US-Philippine relations. It also placed the visiting forces agreement (VFA) into the spotlight. Feminist organizations and most of the papers hail the judgement as "historic", "victory for Filipino women" and "triumph of our justice system". However some are not completely happy as three of the accused were acquitted.
Lawyers will have a field day dissecting the ruling. Some lawyers have said that the judge overlooked a legal principle that says in rape cases, witnesses who do not do anything to stop the crime, are accessories to the crime.
Political analysts will waste a lot of talkshow airtime and discuss the ramifications of the case. They are likely to conclude that US-Philippine relationship has changed. What else is new? With the end of the Cold War, the US has treated the Philippines just like any Southeast Asian country, with problems on poverty, underdevelopment, corruption, weak democracy, insurgency and more recently, terrorism. What the US and the Philippines can't get rid off would be their shared histories.
Pinoys would be glad to learn that despite the intense media and ideological interest in the case, the Pinoy criminal justice system does work and that the courts can dispose of cases without a plate tectonic pace.
What is now being talked about by lawyers is who will have custody of Cpl Smith? To what jail should he be remanded. Lawyers for the defence contend that since the case is on appeal, Smith should be sent to the US Embassy's custody, as the VFA seems to suggest. Many Pinoys believe that Smith should be remanded to a Philippine jail. I think this is logical since a Philippine court sentenced him. Americans may be distressed to learn that if the defence's suggestion is adopted, their embassy would be harboring a convicted felon.
Another development that is ill considered is Father James Reuter's public statement to a broadsheet that the accused are innocent. Father Reuter SJ, an American-Filipino was the spiritual counsel of the accused. While the good father may have heard their confessions, I think that he should keep his opinion on the case private until the appeals process has run its course.
Many Pinoys have asked the big political question. If we did not have visiting soldiers, this would have not happened. We have heard of foreigners involved in rape cases, tried and sentenced in our courts, but these felons are civilians and do not represent a foreign power. Why do we have foreign troops on our independent Filipino soil? This is the question that overlaid the case itself.
But one positive result of the trial is that more people are aware that rape is not just a crime against honour, but a crime against persons.
If Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago vows "vengeance" for being stricken off the list of Chief Justice nominees, then she should not seek appointment to the High Court's bench at all.
Any non-lawyer like me knows that vengeance does not equate to justice.
Perhaps Lady Justice may be well served if the Senator jumped off the plane without a parachute several years back. She once offered to do so if President Erap Estrada was impeached. We recall that not a few Pinoys sent prepaid one-way tickets to her office. She got not a few PAL, Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines tickets. A wag once suggested that she take a flight to Legazpi City, and jump off just about when the plane was above Mayon Volcano. Guess where she would have landed? Starts with a Capital C!
UP fee increase
Discussion on the tuition fee increase at the University of the Philippines (UP) seems to have overshadowed the Nicole case. That the UP needs more money is plainly evident to see. The buildings are dilapidated, the classrooms need repair, the security of students is in question and the labs need new microscopes and other science equipment. The fact is that the fees have not been adjusted since 1989, when I was an undergraduate.
It is no secret that UP has not got any significant increase in subsidy from the State in many years. While the appropriated amount may be big, inflation and devaluation have eaten into the subsidy. The primer on the fee increases emphasizes that a big chunk of the proceeds will be used to improve facilities, update libraries and expand coverage of the socialized tuition fee scheme. If the fees are increased, more needy students will benefit.
The primer does not mention the problem of professors' salaries. UP pays its professors low salaries. I don't need to emphasize that private corporations and schools pay up to 4x a professor's salary. Thus it is not surprising not a few have opted out of the university.
The public seems to believe that the increased fees will be used to increase professors salaries. While the low professors' salary is a major factor in UP's decreasing scholarly reputation, this is not as bad as the learning environment students do their business in. I will comment on this in other posts.