By Alastair McIndoe
MANILA: - A Filipino woman whose claims resulted in a United States Marine sentenced to 40 years in jail for rape, has gone back on her testimony in a startling turnaround to a case that has strained relations between Washington and Manila, two close allies.
A long-running custody battle over Lance Corporal Daniel Smith - that has carried on even after he was convicted last year - triggered moves by some lawmakers to re-negotiate an agreement enabling US forces to train in the Philippines and provide non-combat support in the fight against Islamist terror groups here.
The contents of a sworn statement by his accuser, known as Nicole, that shed new light on the high-profile case was published in local newspapers yesterday.
Smith, 23, was convicted of raping her in the back of a van in Subic Bay while on shore leave in late 2005.
The two had met in a bar, where they danced and flirted. The boyish-looking soldier insisted throughout his trial that the sex was consensual.
'My conscience continues to bother me, realising that I may have in fact been so friendly and intimate with Daniel Smith...that he was led to believe that I was amenable to having sex or that we simply just got carried away,' said Nicole, who is in her early 20s.
Smith is still in US custody in the Philippines pending the outcome of his appeal. Nicole's affidavit was submitted to the appeal court late last week.
In essence, it says that she is no longer sure that she was raped. Nicole's mother, quoted by the local media, said her daughter had flown to the US to be with her American boyfriend of two years to start a new life. It is not clear when she left.
The family runs a canteen inside a Philippine military base in the southern port city of Zamboanga, where US military personnel are stationed.
The US Embassy in Manila will not comment on how the statement could affect Smith's appeal or give details on his accuser's move to the United States.
Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said the statement may not be admitted as new evidence because it should have been introduced during the trial.
'I am not happy with her because her accusations divided the nation, then she turns her back on everything,' he said.
The US' refusal to hand Smith over to the local authorities until the judicial process had run its course was widely viewed here as an affront to the Philippines' sovereignty and national humiliation. But Washington insisted that this was in accordance with the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Last month, the Philippine Supreme Court ordered the government to negotiate with the US to have Smith transferred to a local facility. For now, he lives in an air-conditioned shipping container on the grounds of the US Embassy.
The lean marine at the time of his trial has since put on the pounds.
[She's not sure she has been raped? Either you have or you have not. If you were unconscious you were unable to consent and you were raped. If you were conscious then you should know if you consented. Ridiculous!]