MANILA, Philippines – The head of the Philippine military said on Tuesday that the United States will keep custody of U.S. Marine’s Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, suspect in the murder of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in Olongapo City last October 11.
“Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the custody of the erring soldier stays with the Americans,” General Gregorio Catapang said.
The United States said it would comply with a Philippine prosecutor’s order to generate a murder suspect and four other US Marines in the investigation into the killing of the 26-year-old Filipino transgender.
“The Marine Corps will continue to fully cooperate with the Philippine authorities during the investigation and any follow-on actions that are required,” U.S. Marines spokesman Chuck Little said. “This will include making the suspect, witnesses, and any evidence gathered available to the Philippine authorities.”
Philippine officials had previously said that one U.S. Navy ship, the USS Peleliu where Pemberton is aboard, would remain in the country during the investigation of the crime.
Other U.S. ships docked in Subic Bay, which had been in the Philippines for a 10-day military exercise, have been cleared to leave the country.
According to Catapang, though the US has custody of the suspect, the Philippines will have the criminal jurisdiction.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced that the subpoena has been issued for Pemberton’s appearance at the preliminary investigation set on October 21.
Four other US Marines, whose names were not disclosed, have also been ordered by the prosecutor’s office to be witnesses at the formal hearing.
The hearings could take days or weeks. Within this timeframe, the prosecutor can either bring murder charges or drop the case. If Pemberton is found guilty, he could face life in prison.
Noting that the incident did not take place during the exercises but while the soldier was on break, Catapang said that ‘this will not affect our relationship with the United States.’
PH custody, VFA termination
There is a increasing public pressure for Pemberton to be handed over into Philippines custody.
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, would like the Philippines to acquire custody over Pemberton and terminate the VFA.
According to Santiago, under the VFA, ‘the Philippines has jurisdiction over the U.S. Marine because the offense was reportedly committed in Olongapo City and is punishable under the Philippine Penal Code.’
The senator, however, pointed out that ‘the custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.’
‘In extraordinary cases, the Philippine Government shall present its position to the United States Government regarding custody, which the United States Government shall take into full account.’
Based from this, the treaty was put in favor of visiting American troops.
“The disparity is very clear. The Philippines has jurisdiction but, upon mere request by the U.S., our law enforcement is required to immediately turn over the custody of the American military personnel to the U.S.,” the senator said. “Presumably, the U.S. military authorities will invoke the terms of the VFA in the transgender case. This is one more reason why we should terminate the VFA.”
With report from Cyra Moraleda