Dozens of women activists have protested at the U.S. embassy in Manila following allegations that six U.S. Marines raped a Philippine woman. The demonstrators also expressed opposition to an agreement allowing American troops to train in the Philippines.
An investigation is underway into charges that the Marines raped a 22-year-old woman last week in Subic Bay Freeport, a former U.S. naval base in the Philippines. The Marines, in the country for counter-terrorism exercises, were prevented from leaving and put under the custody of the U.S. embassy.
The embassy has said the case is being handled under the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allows U.S. and Philippine authorities to work together to determine the facts and bring cases to court as needed.
Women's groups in the Philippines have been outspoken over the case and critical of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
The Coalition Against Trafficking in Women for the Asia-Pacific region favors scrapping the pact. Some of its members took part in Monday's protest, and deputy director Jean Enriquez says justice must be done. "Rape is a heinous crime in the Philippines," she said. "It is a violation of human integrity, so we hope that human rights organizations and people across the world would position themselves for this woman and seek accountability for a grievous human rights violation such as this."
Philippine presidential spokesman Ignacio Bunye has appealed for calm, saying emotional outbursts would not help the victim or the cause of justice. He promised there would be no whitewash and Philippine sovereignty would be upheld.
Some members of the Philippine Congress have in the past questioned the presence of U.S. troops in the country and the agreement that allows this.
But Philippine military authorities have expressed confidence the case will not affect military exercises with American forces.
The United States maintained large military bases in the Philippines for nearly 100 years, but they were closed in the early 1990s. Since then there have been regular military contacts for training, which have increased in the past few years as the two countries have worked together to combat terrorism in the region.