On February 11, the Philippine Supreme court ruled Daniel Smith, the US Marine convicted in the Subic Bay Rape Case must be handed back over to Philippine Authorities, providing the latest twist in a high-profile case that has dragged on for two and a half years. The US Embassy, which has maintained custody of Daniel Smith, has so far refused to obey the ruling. While I would be the last person to argue that the justice system in the Philippines is fair, or that prisons there are fit for any human beings, no matter how reprehensible their crimes, I still find the United States' refusal to hand him over to local authorities indefensable. The American Embassy has happily turned a blind eye to hundreds of political killings and thousands of cases of torture, illegal arrest and arbitrary imprisonment of activists, Islamists, communists and other "enemies of the Philippine state." As long as the US continues backing the Arroyo government, it has zero moral authority to shield one of its citizens who has been tried and convicted in local courts.
Below is an old article of mine, updated and lightly rewritten to reflect current events:
On December 4, 2006, Philippine courts sentenced U.S. marine Daniel Smith to 40 years in prison for getting a young Filipina drunk, raping her inside a van, and tossing her half-naked onto the street. The guilty verdict was a dramatic victory for people seeking to hold American servicemen accountable for their crimes against civilian populations.
On December 29, 2006, the hopes raised by Smith’s conviction were shattered when the US Embassy removed him from Philippine custody.
Smith remains in the custody of the US Embassy in Manila while he appeals the verdict, causing widespread public outrage in the Philippines. The impulse to prevent Smith from languishing in an overcrowded, under-serviced prison while his case is resolved is understandable. But the “protect our boys” ethic that underlies it, which dictates that U.S. personnel abroad should invariably be shielded from local accountability, needs to be seriously reexamined.
In the Philippines, this case was clearly tied to US-Philippine military relations from the moment it hit the front pages. It was precisely this kind of crime -- and the lack of accountability that accompanied it -- that led to the expulsion of US Military bases from the Philippines in 1992.
After years of lobbying, the US military was allowed to return in 1999 under a new Visiting Forces Agreement. Among the key features of this agreement are provisions guaranteeing the Philippines greater power to try and punish American soldiers for serious crimes.
Smith’s trial was the first major test of the renegotiated agreement, and the guilty verdict gave Filipinos reason to hope that the era of American impunity had ended. Instead, within weeks of Smith’s conviction, the United States pressured the Philippine government to transfer Smith to American custody by threatening to cut aid and cancel joint military exercises.
Using the power of the state to shield Smith definitively transformed his crime from an isolated incident into a statement of U.S. foreign policy. While asking the Philippines to stand shoulder-to-shoulder in the war on terror, the United States effectively refused to acknowledge the Philippines’ equal right to protect its citizens, and undermined the very democratic institutions the war on terror is purported to protect.
America’s insistence on protecting a convicted rapist at the expense of Philippine sovereignty underscores an unequal partnership the Philippines, one of America’s staunchest allies in the war on terror, has every right to resent. Smith's continued presence at the US embassy in Manila has outraged Filipinos across the country, from Zambales to Zamboanga.
Last week, the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled Smith must await his appeal in a Philippine prison, and again, the US is resisting handing him over, prompting calls from the senate to junk the Visiting Forces Agreement. Filipinos are understandably upset by an ethos that "protects our boys" above all else. Shouldn't we be too?