A hundred thousand pesos nowadays will buy you 1/20th of a two-bedroom house in a cheap suburb of Manila, and less than 1/10th of a previously-owned 2004 Series Three BMW sedan. The same amount should just about cover the insurance for both purchases.

It’s not much — about US$2,000 — given today’s prices. But that’s what US Marine Daniel Smith is supposed to have paid Suzette Nicolas, the “Nicole” of the November 1, 2005 Subic rape case, who now says, in so many words, that she wasn’t quite sure if Smith raped her. And yet she was raped was what she had been saying for three years. Branch 139 of the Makati Regional Trial Court believed her enough to convict Smith, though not to condemn him to death as Ms. Nicolas earlier told the media she wanted.

Paid her for what, if he didn’t rape her? The charitable could say it was payment for the stress and mental torture she suffered, except that in her March 12, 2009 affidavit, Ms.Nicolas says that her anguish didn’t proceed from being raped but from her “search for answers to so many questions that have lingered in [her] mind” since the incident.

On the other hand, the nasty could suggest that he paid her for the sublime privilege of having sex with her, which everyone seems to agree did happen. That would put Ms. Nicolas in the same category as the high-priced companions available from the thousands of US escort services in US cities — except that there’s more: Ms. Nicolas has also realized a dream she shares with practically the entire Philippine population, which is to live in the United States, because that’s where she is now, says her mother.

It’s safe to assume she’s now in the Land of Opportunity thanks to the US Embassy in Manila, which after all is the gatekeeper that decides who or what gets to go there and who or what doesn’t. The total cost of that November 1, 2005 rape/not-rape incident to the US thus includes allowing one alien entrance into the country that, mired in recession and rushing headlong into a depression as it is, is still the end of the rainbow for most Filipinos, whether academic or worker, nun or whore.

All of whom, to a man and woman, would say that Smith didn’t get off cheap, a US visa being more precious than pearls and rubies.

But what’s he getting off of — if, as Ms. Nicolas now says, he didn’t really rape her; that she might have encouraged him; and that she might have been “carried away” because she was drunk, and because of the atmosphere in the club where she was dancing with him? Could it be that Ms. Nicolas received the gifts of a hundred thousand fast-devaluing pesos and a US visa precisely so she could execute that affidavit?

Every lawyer who’s weighed in on the issue says the affidavit has no legal relevance to the decision of the Court of Appeals on Smith’s petition to overturn his conviction. But the document will be in the awareness of the judge, who could very well decide to reverse the lower court decision as a result.

Although sounding as if it had been put together by a lawyer from one of those Quiapo law schools, the Nicolas affidavit couldn’t have come at a better time — for visiting US troops who now know that it will cost them a measly ,000 to have their pleasure of any man, woman or child in these shores. But most especially is it timely for the US and Arroyo governments, which don’t want the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that once more allows US troops to do anything they want in this country reviewed, and even abrogated.

The US wants the VFA to continue, and will do what it can to see to it that it does. Two thousand dollars and a visa is a cheap price to pay to defuse an incident that could have threatened US strategic interests in Southeast Asia. At the moment those interests include keeping tabs of the Indonesia-based Jemaah Islamiya by maintaining semi-permanent “facilities” (read: “bases”) in Mindanao. Those “facilities” are manned by troops that, to get around the Constitutional prohibition, are supposed to be here only to train Philippine troops and are regularly rotated.

On the other hand, the Arroyo government wants the VFA to continue as a major indicator of its commitment to US strategic and economic interests, which is why there’s every likelihood that the Nicolas affidavit was at least inspired by both the US and the Philippine branch of the US State Department, which we otherwise know as the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita wasted no time in hyping the affidavit as a “development [that] will affect [the US’] decision to send somebody, an expert, who is supposed to sit down with government officials here to discuss the provisions of the VFA [that are] under question.”

You wish. Why should the Nicolas affidavit affect any review, whether by the US and the Executive Department, or by the Senate? As Senator Francisco Pangilinan pointed out, the VFA should be reviewed regardless of the Nicolas affidavit, given the problems related to which country should have custody of US soldiers accused and convicted of crimes in the Philippines, which the Subic incident so glaringly highlighted.

But we could be falsely assuming that the Arroyo government wants that issue resolved in favor of the Philippines. After all, the Palace and the DFA have been content to allow the US Embassy continuing custody of Smith despite a Supreme Court ruling that he should be held in a Philippine prison.

That’s in exchange for continued US support in terms not only of such indicators as US President Barack Obama’s call last week to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo praising her government for its alleged anti-terrorism policies, but also the military and economic aid that have so literally enriched the Philippine political and military elite.

Obama’s call was in fact a cheap price to pay for the US to continue to have access to this country especially Mindanao, where its troops have free run of the place to listen in on the Jemaah Islamiya, and the better to assure US multinational access to its resources. That call was cheaper than the ,000 and visa the US paid for the Nicolas affidavit.

Cheap after all was the price the United States paid for the Philippines at the turn of the century. As per the Treaty of Paris of 1898 which ended the Spanish-American War, the US paid Spain million for the Philippines. It was cut-rate even then for a country of 7,000 islands, five million souls, vast natural resources, a potential market for US goods, a gateway to the China market, and a base for the coaling stations US ships needed then to develop as a world sea-power. Thanks to the elite that’s running the country into the ground, this country’s still a bargain for the US, and, as it turns out, even for such exemplars of US manhood as Daniel Smith. No trollop’s quite as cheap as the so-called Philippine government.

By issuing a sworn affidavit, Ms. Nicolas has made her name public.


Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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