Women's rights activists picket government in Philippines

Women's rights activists on Wednesday picketed a government prosecutor's office southwest of Manila, where six U.S. Marines accused of raping a Filipino woman were set to answer the complaint at the start of a preliminary investigation. The alleged assault on the 22-year-old woman at the former U.S. naval base in Subic has stirred emotions in the Philippines, once an American colony, and the government last week formally requested custody of the Marines. They have been in the hands of the U.S. Embassy since the complaint was filed Nov. 1, and the U.S. government hasn't said if they will be transferred.

About two dozen members of the Gabriela women's group trooped in front of the Hall of Justice in Olongapo city, 80 kilometers (50 miles) southwest of Manila, armed with placards calling for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement that allows U.S. troops to train in the Philippines.

They chanted "U.S. troops out now" and "U.S. imperialists, sexual terrorists."

Also present were members of a pro-U.S. group, dressed in fatigue pants and black shirts. They said the Marines are innocent until proven guilty.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales said U.S. authorities gave their commitment to present the Marines whenever needed. But it was not clear if the servicemen will attend Wednesday's proceedings or send their lawyers.

Prosecutors said they summoned the Marines, the woman and witnesses, but acknowledged they have no power to compel the Americans to personally appear. Olongapo city prosecutor Prudencio Jalandoni said he will ask the Marines to give sworn statements in response to the rape complaint.

"We are taking every effort to ensure any and all accused shall be tried under Philippine laws and, if found guilty, will be answerable for their crimes under Philippine laws," Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo said Monday, reports the AP. I.L.

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