Manila — Filipinos are now riveted to the rape case involving six U.S. Marines and a 22-year-old Filipina even as a review of the existing military treaty between the Philippines and the U.S. is now being pushed by Philippine legislators.

Rallies are being held all over the country to protest the Nov. 1 alleged gang rape which took place at Subic Zambales north of Manila the site of the former U.S. military base and now a duty free export processing zone. The Marines — five staff sergeants and a corporal from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit — were apparently on rest and recreation privileges after war games held with Philippine military personnel. The young woman allegedly was not a prostitute but was visiting from Zamboanga a province in the southern Mindanao region and barhopping with her stepsister and her stepsister’s boyfriend in Subic.

Fingers have been pointed between Subic and Justice department officials after the U.S. Embassy in Manila was allowed to take custody of the Marines instead of them being jailed locally. Subic officials claimed the six suspects tried to escape by boarding their departing ship the USS Essex for their base in Okinawa Japan. The feisty Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago who ran against but lost to Fidel Ramos in the Philippine presidential elections in 1992 is calling for a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement with the U.S. due to what she says are four provisions skewed in favor of American forces.

The rape case is a baptism of fire for many of the officials of the U.S. Embassy in Manila who have barely warmed their seats after arriving in the country only two months ago as part of a regular rotation of diplomats. Facing the media’s avalanche of questions is Matthew Lussenhop newly appointed press attaché. He has adapted very well to the local culture and even answers reporters’ questions via text messages or SMS.

A preliminary investigation hearing by the Olongapo City prosecutor’s office was to be held on Nov. 23 and another one on Nov. 29. The Marines’ legal team headed by former Philippine Ambassador to the U.S. Raul Rabe is up against the team of Attorney Katrina Legarda a well-known criminal attorney who has successfully defended victims of spousal and child abuse and rape. Her most prominent case involved a Philippine congressman who was convicted of rape and molestation of an 11-year-old girl. As of press time it was still not known whether the Marines whose photos have been published in local newspapers and flashed on TV screens will make a personal appearance at the preliminary hearing.

For those who love trivia Legarda is also fast becoming known around Manila as the first cousin of Miguel “Mig” Ayesa the Filipino-Australian who landed in the top three finalists of the recent Rockstar search for the new frontman of the band INXS. He was just in Manila the week of Nov. 14 for a series of shows. MBJ