OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines — Philippine prosecutors charged four U.S. Marines on Tuesday with raping a 22-year-old Filipino woman in early November but cleared two other soldiers who had also been accused.
Washington has not responded publicly to an earlier request by the Philippine foreign affairs department to transfer custody of the Marines to local authorities.
A statement by the U.S. embassy, which has been holding the soldiers, made no mention of custody but said the United States would continue to cooperate with the Philippines on the case under the two countries’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
“The U.S. remains committed to seeing that justice is served, and looks forward to a fair and impartial process that can provide for a just outcome,” the statement said.
“We are happy the girl is going to get some kind of justice,” said Katrina Legarda, a lawyer for the complainant.
In affidavits, five of the Marines had disputed allegations that the woman was gang-raped in a van at a former U.S. Navy base at Subic Bay, suggesting there was consensual sex.
The sixth soldier, who had also taken part in two-week military exercises with Philippine troops in October, did not submit an affidavit.
The van driver, a Filipino initially considered a witness, was charged as an accomplice, according to prosecution documents filed with a court in Olongapo City, northwest of Manila.
“I was convinced there was a conspiracy among the accused,” the city’s chief prosecutor, Prudencio Jalandoni, told reporters.
In the charge sheet, Jalandoni said evidence suggested the two cleared soldiers were not in the van at the time of the alleged rape.
He said that once arrest warrants were issued, the four U.S. Marines and the Filipino driver would be placed in one detention facility, subject to the provisions of the VFA.
Recommending no bail be set for the accused, Jalandoni said he was “confident the case will be resolved before the end of the one-year period” stipulated in the VFA for the handling of criminal charges against U.S. soldiers.
The court was expected to select a judge on Jan. 3 to hear the case but no trial date has been set.
The woman who filed the complaint and the six soldiers — all from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit stationed in Okinawa, Japan — did not attend three hearings held since late November.
Relations between Manila and Washington deteriorated in the 1990s when Philippine senators ended a treaty allowing U.S. forces to keep naval and air bases that had been used as staging points during the Vietnam War and the first Gulf War.
The bonds were repaired in 1999, when a more friendly Philippine Senate agreed to the VFA, which permits U.S. troops to join military exercises and train local units that are battling communist and Muslim insurgencies.