ANGELES CITY–He has a doctorate in economics and retired as a justice of the peace in Australia. He first arrived in this city last January to enjoy retirement at age 58.
But now, Dr.Stephen Charles Soul is facing here charges of attempted rape filed by two underaged girls in a case he has decried as a mere extortion set up by policemen who, even other foreigners have also claimed, belong to a syndicate pouncing on their vulnerability as foreigners.
“I have been told many foreigners have been victimized before, but no one dared speak out. Someone has to speak out. It cannot go on like this,” Soul told local journalists after he posted a P120,000 bail for his liberty.
Even city administrator Irineo Alvaro, in an interview with Punto, confirmed this. “Those who live in Angeles have been hearing about such things for quite some time,” he said.
Some foreigners, who had fled the country after also allegedly trapped in pedophilia frame ups, have come out with websites, such as the centralluzoncorruption.com, to expose the operations of the syndicate to warn other tourists visiting this city.
The city prosecutor’s office filed with the regional trial court (RTC) branch 61 here last Aug. 21 the criminal case against Soul who had spent 10 days in the crowded local jail together with 54 other inmates.
In the information submitted to the court, third assistant city prosecutor Jaime Umlas said that last Aug. 13, two girls aged 14 and 17 were rescued by agents of the Pampanga police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Team (CIDT) from the alleged attempts of Soul and another foreigner identified only as John Doe to rape them at Soul’s apartment at Dona Josefa subdivision in Barangay Malabanias here.
Umlas said that the rape was not consummated because of the alleged victims’ “spontaneous desistance” and the “timely arrival” of the CIDT agents.
In an attached document addressed to the city prosecutor, Pampanga CIDT chief Supt. Florendo Saligao narrated that at about 1 p.m. last Aug. 13, mothers of 14-year-old Cherrie and 17-year-old Angie (not their real names) went to the CIDT office in Barangay Amsic here to report that Cherrie had called them up by cell phone to report they were locked against their will by Soul. The minors reportedly gave their parents the complete address of Soul’s apartment.
The report said, however, that it took the CIDT agents, together with the parents, an hour, or at 2 p.m. to reach Soul’s apartment where they alleged hearing the girls shouting for help.
Saligao said the policemen found the apartment’s door unlocked and “immediately entered and saw the two foreigners molesting the victims”.
He said Soul was then arrested while his companion fled through a fire exit.
Soul, in an interview with local journalists after he posted bail, cited discrepancies in the affidavits issued by Saligao and the victims themselves.
A two-page sworn affidavit signed by the mothers of Cherrie and Angie, dated Aug. 13, said that at 1 p.m. on that day, they both got a cell phone call from Cherrie saying she and her friend were locked up by a foreigner at Soul’s specific address. The mothers said they and CIDT cops “immediately” went to the apartment where they allegedly witnessed two foreigners already molesting the girls.
The testimonies of both Saligao and the parents conflicted with the joint sworn statement of the victims themselves. Their statement was also attached to the information filed with the RTC.
Cherrie and Angie’s formal statement said that at about 2:30 p.m. last Aug. 13, they were strolling in Barangay Malabanias when two foreigners they identified as “Amerikano” in an apartment called them and offered them snacks.
They said the foreigners later forcibly took them to separate rooms where they were sexually molested.
Contrary to the report of Saligao and the parents that the policemen entered the unlocked front door without knocking, the girls’ statement said that while they were in separate rooms, they heard a knock on the door.
The girls’ statement said they heard the police introduce themselves as being from the CIDG and that they were allowed to come in. They also said that before taking the foreigners, the policemen properly explained why they were being arrested.
Saligao also signed the girls’ sworn testimony.
MERE EXTORTION SET UP
“I have been told that other foreigners paid up and fled the country after being held in similar frame ups. But it’s all so wrong. With such cases happening with impunity, time will come when Angeles will be taboo to tourists,” Soul said.
Soul said he retired as justice of peace in New South Wales in Australia three years ago. He obtained his doctorate in economics from the Southern Cross University, a government university in Australia.
He related that on Aug. 13, his pregnant ex-girlfriend he named only as Lenny sent him a text message offering to introduce him to her girl-cousin.
“Lenny used to be my faithful girlfriend but then she got pregnant by another man,” Soul said. He said he was sure he wasn’t the father as he had vasectomy 20 years ago after his former wife gave birth to twins in Australia. He and his wife divorced years ago.
Still, Soul said he could provide Lenny with vitamins to help her in her pregnancy, but that he had cut off his relationship with her after finding another girlfriend.
“I told her I already had a girlfriend but she came anyway at about 3 p.m. at my apartment, with two girls. I had just emerged from a shower then and only a towel was wrapped around my waist,” he said.
Soul said he just offered his visitors some snacks even while Cherrie, using Lenny’s cell phone, seemed to be frantically texting somebody. “She even ran out of load on the phone and she was asking for my cell phone when the cops in civilian clothes barged into the apartment,” he recalled.
He said the cops arrived only about five minutes after the girls came, indicating that they were already in the vicinity from the beginning.
“The cops then forcibly took me, but my friend who had been staying with me in my apartment was bigger and he was able to lock himself in as I was forced into the police vehicle,” he said. His friend, whom he identified only as Steve, has already fled the country.
DEMAND FOR CASH
Soul said that with only a towel wrapped around his waist, the police locked him in a jail near Clark. Without his statement being gathered at the police station, one who introduced himself as “Ranger” said the mothers of the girls would drop the case if he could pay them P500,000.
The amount was later reduced to only P300,000. But when he later balked from withdrawing an initial P100,000 from funds transferred by his son from New York for such settlement after he got an anonymous call saying that agents from the National Bureau of Investigation were in the area of the bank to entrap him in a bribery attempt.
On Aug. 14, the prosecutor filed the frustrated rape charges against him before the RTC.
Soul lamented that a lawyer recommended to him by another foreigner residing here had not even prepared any counter-affidavit in his case.
“Every time we talk, the only thing he asks me is to settle the case by paying up,” he said.
Soul said that the lawyer also intimated to him that while the case had already been filed with the court, he still had chance of being relieved from the case as even some officials in the local judiciary system are in cahoots with syndicates involved in extortion frame ups victimizing foreigners.
CIDT CHIEF GIVES SIDE
In a telephone interview, Saligao denied Soul was framed up. “He was inquested. If there was frame up, this would not happen,” he said.
He admitted, however, that he was not aware of any counter-affidavit from Soul, even as he repeated his narrative on what happened, despite conflict with the testimonies of the alleged victims themselves.
Saligao, who assumed the post as CIDT chief in Pampanga a year ago, also said he knew “Ranger,” the man who initially sought P500,000 from Soul, as being a member of the “tourist police” in Angeles.
Denying that his men are into framing up foreigners for extortion, he said that his unit even has organized Oplan Sagip Angel to protect children from pedophilia.
But he also admitted that he has read in the Internet sites identifying a policeman surnamed Tan as among those involved in such extortion schemes.
CL CORRUPTION WEBSITE
The website centralluzoncorruption.com, apparently based in Germany, was set up by foreigners who had already been victimized by the frame-up syndicate in this city. It features a photo of Tan, the cop Saligao mentioned.
“In mid-2008 some of the police in the Fields Avenue area (Angeles) started using pickpockets to plant drugs into the pockets and bags of foreigners. The police ask to search the unfortunate who is arrested. The poor man is told he can be released for $5,000. If he refuses he will enter their judicial system,” the website site.
It also warned of schemes which Soul had apparently fallen into.
“The child is allowed in, goes into the bathroom, sheds her clothing and then calls the police who have already instructed her to do this,” the website said.
“Tan’s men then rush in saying they are going to rescue a child. No warrant of any kind, no barangay official. Sometimes official papers are filed by the older-sister or mother (or more usually by someone claiming to be her sister or mother) hours before the underage girl is introduced to the hapless foreigner,” it also said.
Meanwhile, Soul said he has reasons to fear for his life now that he has spoken out.
“Someone has to, someone has to. A wrong as serious as this can not be permitted to go on,” he said.