Philippines Free Press
The problematic “Nicole”
By Manuel L. Quezon III
FROM the very start, “Nicole” posed a problem to many people. She, herself, was a problem: she was not, according to the idealized standards many men have of womankind, exactly a model of feminine modesty and conservatism. She seemed to be the opposite, actually: uninterested in Filipino men but obsessed with Americans, and aggressive, reckless, and “wild.”
And then there was the problem presented by those who rallied to her cause, and merged it with a larger cause: the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, and after that, the end of the RP-US alliance. For many other Filipinos, anger, outrage, over how American servicemen treated “Nicole” was one thing; supporting her in her desire to obtain justice by legal means, another; and another thing altogether, besides that, was waging a campaign against the United States and its relationship with the Philippines and its government.
These two aspects of her personal, human, tragedy, dominated the trial that led to Daniel Smith’s conviction for rape (and the acquittal of the other servicemen implicated in the rape) and the complications that followed. In the first place, “Nicole” always had to contend with as much public hostility, or at least, skepticism, toward her cause, simply because of who she was, or to be precise, what her critics thought she was – which was, simply, a woman of loose morals who probably deserved what happened to her.
Setting aside, for a moment, the question of rape (which we shouldn’t forget, was determined to have taken place, by the court, based on the legal definition of the crime), it seems to me that because of the critical, even contemptuous, attitudes held by so many, locally and nationally, towards her, she really had no option but to charge Smith and his friends with rape, even if she hadn’t been raped.
This was a point I tried to raise in my Inquirer column. The humiliating circumstances under which she was thrown out of that van by the American servicemen left her with no choice but to be publicly branded a whore, and what’s more, one willing to take an incredible amount of public humiliation. The repercussions of simply accepting her fate, would have branded her for life, not just in her community, but with her family. Knowing her taste in men, it might have circulated as gossip among American servicemen, permanently closing off the fate she seems to have desired most – to end up happily married to an American.
We all have our preferences and in her case, her preference, even if you describe it as bordering on an obsession, with Americans is no different from that demonstrated, in all sorts of ways, by other Filipinas (and Filipino men, too). There was a kind of local and national hypocrisy in that “Nicole” was perhaps more uninhibited, certainly a little more public and perhaps a lot more careless, about demonstrating her preferences. She was never a prostitute; should never be considered one; and yet, was essentially branded as one by a big percentage of her countrymen.
On the other hand those who wrapped the country’s flag around her shoulders failed to consider that she may have never had much of an attachment to that flag, or what those clamoring for justice for her attached, in terms of symbolism, to that flag. At most, an instinctive racial sensitivity and sense of resentment against uncouth and callous American servicemen is what she, her family, and a large swathe of the public may have shared with the more politically-inclined of her supporters.
We don’t know how it happened, but we do know that “Nicole” dismissed her lawyer, and that her family says she’s gone to the United States, and has had an American boyfriend since the case began, and that she doesn’t seem inclined to return. An affidavit, in which she expresses regret over pursuing the charge, because she has doubts over whether she was actually raped, has been produced.
Lawyers seem to agree on two things, concerning that affidavit: first, that it carries little value and is actually liable to be dismissed as irrelevant by the courts; and that second, even if she claims she was so drunk as to no longer be sure she was actually raped, the very fact she was drunk and confused, and sex occurred with Smith, suggests rape anyway.
To me, there are three things that cannot be changed, regardless of whether Smith’s conviction ends up affirmed, or overturned, on appeal.
First, that aside from the crime of rape, the manner in which “Nicole” was abandoned deserved not only a vigorous protest, but a demand, for Americans to more properly discipline their troops. Second, that the government exceeded its authority – and a sovereign sense of decency- in handing Smith over to the Americans when it already had custody of the accused. Third, that it failed to capitalize on the rhetoric of the new American administration, in pursuing further legal clarifications, to the extent of demanding renegotiation, if necessary, of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Only then can we find out whether the Americans are interested in a fairer deal; and based on that, only then can we determine if the public is prepared to consider finally abandoning its existing alliance with the United States. As it is, “Nicole” has made her choice; and that choice has robbed those using her as a symbol of their anti-American fight, of a potent weapon. Her decision, however, focuses attention, once more, on the gutless handling of her case by our government; and the natural tendency of the Americans to extract any advantage, whether formally granted or not, Filipinos will give them.
From the start and to the bitter end, the whole case has revealed to us, much more about ourselves, individually and collectively, than perhaps we’re prepared to accept.