GabNet writes Obama on Smith rape case: This is not the change we waited for

Leaders of women’s group Gabriela Network USA, composed of Filipino-Americans and Americans of Filipino descent, have written President Obama about the Philippine rape case involving a US Marine. Among others, the women took exception at the actions and statements made by American officials that may have induced the most recent development: the rape victim has recanted her earlier statement, fired her lawyer in favor of those of the defense and fled to the US.

GabNet’s letter takes a refreshing feminist tone that puts in perspective the macho, patriarchal condemnations of “Nicole”. I agree wholeheartedly with most of the letter, except perhaps in the latter portion regarding VFAs and SOFAs being entered into by the US. It may not be enough to put pro-women provisions in such agreements to prevent US servicemen from committing sexual and violent crimes against women.

[Interesting tidbit: Candice Custodio, GabNet’s chair-elect, is known to many as DJ extraordinaire and hiphop artist Kuttin’ Kandi.]

Below is the full text of GabNet‘s letter to President Obama:

March 18, 2009

His Excellency, Barack H.. Obama
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington DC 20500

Dear President Obama:

We write to you because we are disturbed and anguished by reports that the U.S. government was complicit in the attempt to frustrate the course of justice with regard to the rape conviction of Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith in the Philippines.

A majority of our members are women of Philippine ancestry who already have to contend with the persistent reputation of Filipinas as among the most trafficked women in the world, both in the international labor and sex markets, and as among those so victimized by sexual and domestic violence.

Nine of the eleven women recently killed by intimate partners in Hawaii were Filipinas, who also comprise 40% of women killed by intimate partners in San Francisco. Filipino-American communities, from New Jersey to Honolulu, suffer a high rate of violence against women. This perception of Filipinas as “fair game” for sexual and other forms of violence was created, among other causes, by more than a hundred years of being prostituted to the U.S. military.

Enabling a member of the U.S. military now to avoid legal repercussions for having sex, to the rowdy cheers of his fellow soldiers, with an indisputably intoxicated 22-year-old woman, who was then tossed out of the van in a state of semi-undress and semi-consciousness, is certainly not the change we have been waiting nor looking for. These facts were not disputed at the trial in the Philippines that convicted Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith in 2006.

Many states in the United States itself accept by law the fact that an inebriated woman cannot consent to have sex. This inability to give consent supersedes any other circumstance that may appear to encourage sexual attention, like wearing a short skirt, being flirtatious, or even kissing the violator. In those states, what transpired between “Nicole” and Cpl. Smith would be considered rape, especially as nothing was brought forth at the trial that would imply consent on Nicole’s part.

We worry now that because of this bargain between the U..S. and Philippine governments, U.S. military personnel may return to the U..S. believing that soldiers have the right to force sex upon women in whatever circumstance. No doubt you are already familiar with the unconscionable rate of sexual harassment, rape and violence against women suffered by female soldiers and military wives. This will but add to the U.S. military’s mistaken impression that war, occupation or just being more powerful and with more weapons than anyone gives them the right to defy U.S. laws, host countries’ laws and international law.

The Nicole incident happened in November, 2005 and the following year, in September, 2006, 14-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza was gang-raped and murdered, along with her parents and younger sister, by U.S. troops in Iraq.

If, way back in November 2005, the U.S. government and the U.S. military had taken a strong stand against our troops inflicting sexual violence/violence upon women in general and upon women of host countries in particular, then we would not have this spectacle of avowed “liberators” gang-raping and killing those they purportedly “liberate.”

Instead, the U.S. military threatened the Philippine government with cancellation of humanitarian aid, with cancellation of joint military exercises, and the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines did everything possible to frustrate the carrying out of justice for the rape of Nicole.

This is not the change we waited for.

In this era of change you vowed to bring with your inauguration as president, at the very least, we are asking for specific provisions protective of women, and against violence against women, trafficking and prostitution in each and every military agreement, every Status of Forces and Visiting Forces Agreement, that U.S.. enacts with another country.

This would help institutionalize, on a global scale, the pro-women stance that your administration made visible through your signing of the Ledbetter Act and the creation of the White House Women’s Council.

Thank you. We await your reply – preferably with action.

Respectfully yours,

Annalisa Enrile (interim Chair)
Candace Custodio (Chair-elect)
Jollene G. Levid (Secretary-General)



  1. NYCFil-Am

    The above letter can only be taken seriously by those who are too absorbed in their own ideology and social agenda. Those activists supporting “Nicole” didn’t do a thing for her. Any objective review of the case (setting aside all the politics and social activism) and taken into consideration the facts and the political leanings of the Makati judge and that should be enough to convince people that this case was a sham to begin with.

    There were four other marines. They were set free for “lack of evidence.” Their Filipino driver was not even charged. The whole case was collapsing so a conviction was desperately needed in order for the country to “save face.”
    The driver even claimed there really was no rape committed after the trial was over-and I give him for credit for being courageous enough to talk.

    As someone once said, “The best way to cover up a lie is to shout louder than those telling the truth” and that was what happened in the “Nicole” rape case.

  2. tonyo

    I would rather let the courts judge the merits of the case.

    Your allegations that the case only prospered due to politics and social activism are fantastic and farfetched. Twas actually easier for the judge to acquit all soldiers, after the US and Philippine governments made it clear that they don’t want any case to spoil the supposed special relations between the two countries.

    But the law is the law and Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was found guility beyond reasonable doubt of violating the law on rape. This, despite pressures from various quarters. Whether the much-touted recantation statement will be enough to overturn the verdict in the Court of Appeals is better left for the court to decide.

  3. Jay Mont, M.D., J.D.

    Gabnet agreed with the judge in the Smith case”… an inebriated woman cannot consent to have sex.” People with common sense do NOT agree. Every Friday and Saturday night, many thousands of women drink heavily, then have sex – are these all rapes? Of course not. Voluntary intoxication alone cannot prove rape – one has to look at all the surrounding events. That is the law in the US – at least in my opinion as a retired American attorney.
    The judge’s decision was completely unconvincing – just name-calling. So many facts were ignored – the Filipino driver of the van, the short duration of the ride(only 10 minutes), the use of a condom, etc. Would any sane criminal plan a rape to occur in front of 4 other people, on a 10 minute van ride, then go to the trouble of using a condom? Since when are criminals so concerned with pregnancy and STDs. Of course, no single fact is dispositive. The world (outside of the PI) does not respect the judge’s opinion – it was poorly-reasoned and left out critical facts.
    Gabriela’s agenda was supported by Nicole’s rape claim and they supported her. Now that she recanted the claim, they ignore her completely. That’s a big problem. Unlike robbing a bank, this crime is not obvious. It’s all based on her words describing her consent (state of mind). Now, it appears she may have been in the mood for sex, presumably before she drank much. Despite the judge’s opinion, drinking alone does not negate consent.
    Gabriela sticks to a horribly-reasoned opinion and ignores her change of heart. They would gladly see Smith spend 40 years in jail for a crime even the victim does not believe took place. I am not against Gabriela fighting for women’s rights but when truth is ignored and anybody can be sacrificed for their agenda, I think I will reserve any future donations.

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