Journalist accuses US soldier of hitting him

Master Sergeant Steve Saunders reportedly slapped the forehead of DZRH correspondent Henry Araneta for no apparent reason at the Cassado Bar of East Asia Royale Hotel here at dawn Thursday.

Araneta said he was having fun with other journalists when the incident happened. The American soldier was drunk, he added.

The alleged victim said he will file a complaint for slight physical injury against Saunders on Monday or Tuesday.

"I want to teach him a lesson. I could not accept that a foreigner hit me in our own country," he said in a phone interview, noting he could have just shrugged off the incident if it was a fellow Filipino who did it to him.

Saunders, according to Araneta, was apparently pissed when the  journalists became boisterous and teased one of their colleagues to sing more songs.

The American soldier, who is reportedly detailed with the United Nations Humanitarian Force, went to the comfort room and when he returned he allegedly knocked the head of Araneta.

The journalists confronted the foreigner, whom Araneta said had a gun tucked in his waist.

The journalists called for help and when responding Army troopers arrived, they seized a 9 mm pistol from the suspect, he said.

Rey Remegio, one of the journalists, later reported the incident to the city police precinct station three for record purposes, the victim said.

Araneta said he has pictures to prove Saunders carried a gun but that the film was yet to be developed.

Saunders was reportedly brought to the 6th Infantry Division in Datu Odin Sinsuat, Maguindanao.

MindaNews contacted Lt. Col. Julieto Ando, 6th ID spokesperson, for comment but he did not answer his cellular phone. Later on the phone was turned off.

Araneta said reporters from the Malacanang Press Corps called him up Saturday to inquire on the incident, apparently to let Palace officials comment.

Reached by phone on Sunday, Matthew Lussenhop, US Embassy spokesperson, defended Saunders, saying "he was not in violation of the law."

The Commission on Elections has started implementing a gun ban for the May 2007 midterm elections.

"No criminal charges have been filed against him.  The police was there. He also

apologized [already]," Lussenhop said.

He said Saunders may face sanctions from the US military.  He claimed he has "no idea on the whereabouts now of Mr. Saunders."

Earlier, relations between the Philippines and the US were put to a test following the controversial Subic rape case involving four US Marine servicemen.

Smith was convicted for raping "Nicole" but his three co-accused were acquitted by a court in Makati City.

The convicted rapist was immediately detained at the Makati City Jail but later transferred to American custody pending a decision on his appeal.

The transfer, openly backed by Malacanang and some Cabinet officials, was highly criticized as proof of the country's subservience to the US. (MindaNews)