The Philippine government has formally requested custody of six U.S. Marines accused of rape after recent counterterrorism exercises, the U.S. Embassy said Friday. The Marines have been in U.S. custody in the Philippines since a 22-year-old Filipino woman filed a rape complaint against them on Nov. 1. A prosecutor has subpoenaed the men to answer the allegations next week, after which they could be charged.
"We did receive the request for custody on Nov. 16," embassy spokesman Matthew Lussenhop said.
He said the U.S. government "shall take this request into full account" but could not tell immediately when a decision would be made. "As of now, they are in U.S. custody," he said.
Under a Visiting Forces Agreement with the Philippines, the U.S. will retain custody of its service members accused of wrongdoing unless the Philippine government requests otherwise. Even then, the U.S. can refuse such a request, a provision that some Philippine lawmakers have criticized as infringing on national sovereignty.
During a Senate hearing Thursday, Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, head of the oversight committee on the Visiting Forces Agreement, lamented the "slow" response of Philippine foreign affairs officials in asserting the country's jurisdiction over the Marines.
"I'm very sad that we take this attitude. It makes us sound like we were still a mini-colony of the U.S.," she was quoted as saying by the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer. "We're always worried that we might incur their displeasure, and this encourages them to be bellicose or to be nonchalant about the provisions of a written treaty."
The alleged assault on the woman at the former U.S. naval base in Subic has stirred emotions in the former American colony. Some left-wing activists and legislators have called for abrogating the treaty, which spells out the privileges and obligations of U.S. troops and allows them to train in the country.
However, both governments have expressed confidence the case won't affect relations or counterterrorism exercises, reports the AP. I.L.