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Will there be a repeat of the strange case of Daniel Smith?

The recent killing of Jeffrey or “Jennifer” Laude at Subic, allegedly by an American soldier who is in the country because of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), brings back memories of another Subic case.

This is the 2005 incident when a Filipina, Suzette Nicolas, claimed she was raped by Daniel Smith, an American soldier who was then also in the country under the VFA.

Strange things took place in the Daniel Smith case.

Smith was convicted of rape by the Makati RTC in December of 2006. However, even if the VFA and the Supreme Court ruled that after conviction Smith should have been detained in a Philippine jail, he was, with the tolerance if not help of the Philippine government and against the orders of the RTC, spirited out of a Philippine jail and brought to the U.S. Embassy. It was there where he stayed in comfort while his case was on appeal.

Then things happened rapidly. Nicolas, the supposed victim, fired her Filipina lawyer, my comadre Evalyn Ursua, who worked hard to convict Smith. Dismissing her was a treatment she did not deserve. Then in 2009, some three years after Smith was convicted, Nicolas executed an affidavit of desistance saying (Would you believe?) that she “was not sure she was raped.”

The story did not end there. The parents of Nicolas then said they had received the “civil damages” awarded in the case. Then Nicolas was supposedly granted a passport and visa and left for the U.S. (the homeland of Smith) with a new American “boyfriend” where she now perhaps lives “happily ever after (?)”

And then to top it all, Smith was acquitted by the Court of Appeals by three women justices, also in 2009.

And everything ended well. Or did it?

Sen. Loren Legarda howled in protest. She said, “America’s act of buying Nicole’s silence is a precedent. They are bound to do this every time. While America keeps its processes intact and its soldiers protected, our morality as a nation is trampled upon, our justice system spat on.”

Then Sen. Jamby Madrigal, said she “believed there was a deal (that was) too good to refuse.” Ursua, Suzette’s lawyer, expressed suspicion that the then GMA administration was behind the affidavit of desistance.

Will there be a repeat of the strange happenings in the Jennifer Laude case? That is one good reason why we should closely monitor the developments. The suspect, Joseph Pemberton, has supposedly been turned over to Philippine authorities and is now in Camp Aquinaldo. That is well and good. The real question is – for how long will Pemberton stay in the hands of Philippine law enforcers?

Under the VFA, does the Philippines really have the will and the mechanism to try an American soldier and find him guilty if the evidence warrants, and to keep him in jail if found guilty? Or will loopholes be found so they can wiggle through the maze of the law? Will it only be a matter of time before Pemberton, like Smith before him, return triumphantly to the “Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free”?

Laude is dead. She cannot be given a passport or visa or an American boyfriend to spirit her away to the good old USA. But will her parents ultimately succumb to what Sen. Madrigal describes as “a deal too good to refuse”?

Do poor and ordinary Philippine country folks really have a chance once the mighty USA, with a little “help” from Philippine authorities, start to exert pressure?



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