MANILA, Philippines — A Philippine appeals court overturned the 2006 rape conviction of a U.S. Marine and ordered his immediate release Thursday, setting off condemnations from activists.
A suburban Manila court convicted Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith of raping a Filipino woman in the company of fellow Marines at the former U.S. Subic Bay Naval base three years ago and sentenced him to life in prison. The case has become a rallying point for anti-American protests in the country.
The Philippine Court of Appeals overturned the ruling, indicating the sexual act was consensual.
"No evidence was introduced to show force, threat and intimidation applied by the accused," the court said in its 71-page decision, which is final.
It ordered the immediate release of Smith, 23, of St. Louis, from his detention at the U.S. Embassy in Manila.
Smith's lawyer, Jose Justiniano, said his client "got the justice that he deserved," but leftist groups condemned it, saying it was proof of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's subservience to America.
"We are outraged," said Renato Reyes of the prominent group Bayan.
"This denial of justice can only be blamed on Arroyo, whose subservience to the U.S. and veneration of the VFA knows no bounds," Reyes said. He was referring to the Visiting Forces Agreement, a 1999 accord that allows U.S. forces to conduct war exercises in the Philippines, a former colony.
About 30 activists marched to the heavily guarded U.S. Embassy late Thursday but were stopped nearby by riot police. They held up posters that read, "Smith's acquittal, a Philippine-U.S. government connivance," then peacefully dispersed after an hour.
In March, the woman who accused Smith of rape altered her testimony and emigrated to the United States in a dramatic twist in the case, saying she was no longer certain that a crime took place.
But the court said its decision was not influenced by her action.
The woman initially said she and Smith were drinking, kissing and dancing at a Subic bar before moving to a van, where she originally told the court she was raped while she fell in and out of consciousness. Smith had insisted the sex was consensual.
The court said what happened "was the unfolding of a spontaneous, unplanned romantic episode with both parties carried away by their passions."
The woman's turnabout shocked her supporters. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said she could be charged with perjury.
Associated Press writer Oliver Teves contributed to this report.