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Palace still keen on VFA review

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By Joel Guinto
First Posted 14:36:00 03/18/2009

MANILA, Philippines – The government remains keen on a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) in the face of the recantation of “Nicole,” the Filipina whose rape complaint led to the conviction of American Marine Daniel Smith.

In fact, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said the Palace is hopeful Nicole’s turnaround would “help in enhancing the status of the VFA” in the long run.

The conviction of Smith and the unresolved question of where he should be detained has been seen as a test for the VFA, which governs the conduct of American troops in the Philippines.

“The so-called flaws [of the VFA] are not really new, and these are under continuous review by the executive branch, both by the secretary of foreign affairs and the secretary of national defense… It cannot be said that we are not taking a closer look at the provisions of the VFA,” Ermita told a news conference on Wednesday.

“Let’s just look at this development [as something], that, if properly handled and [it] results in something positive, it will help in enhancing the status of the VFA,” he said.

Ermita said it was premature to say whether or not Smith would be released until the Court of Appeals acts on his petition to overturn his conviction by the Makati Regional Trial Court in December 2006.

Press Secretary Cerge Remonde, meanwhile, dismissed speculation the phone conversation between President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and US President Barack Obama last Saturday had something to do with Nicole’s recantation.

Remonde said Nicole executed her sworn statement, in which she said she doubted whether Smith had raped her, on March 12, two days before Obama called up Arroyo, reportedly to reaffirm Washington’s commitment to military cooperation with Manila and to the VFA.

“It’s a misimpression that the [phone] conversation has something to do with it [recantation]. Let the facts speak for [themselves],” Remonde said.

Ermita maintained the Palace was “taken by surprise” by Nicole’s action.

In her latest affidavit, Nicole said she might have consented to having sex with Smith in the back of a van the evening of November 1, 2005 because she was drunk.

During the course of the marathon trial in 2006, it was revealed that Smith and three other Marines who witnessed the rape – Staff Sergeant Chad Carpentier and Lance Corporals Dominique Duplantis and Keith Silkwood – dumped her naked body by the roadside as they rushed to beat the curfew on their ship.

The court acquitted Carpentier, Duplantis, and Silkwood.

Last month, the Supreme Court ordered Smith’s return to Philippine custody as it voided an agreement between Foreign Affairs Secretary Alberto Romulo and US Ambassador Kristie Kenney that provided for his detention at the US Embassy in Manila.

But Smith remains at the embassy.

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Written by joelguinto

WedUTC2009-03-18T07:22:42+00:00UTC03bUTCWed, 18 Mar 2009 07:22:42 +0000 22, 2006 at 12:45 am03

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