PH gov’t asked to end VFA if US refuses to hand over Pemberton
MANILA, Philippines—The Philippine government should consider terminating the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) if the United States were to refuse to hand over an American serviceman suspected of killing a Filipino transgender, activists said Wednesday.
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the government must not allow itself to be “pushed around” by the US and insist on the custody of US Marine Private Joseph Scott Pemberton, who allegedly murdered Jeffrey or Jennifer Laude in an Olongapo City motel on Saturday.
“Any refusal by the United States government to turn over Private Pemberton to Philippine authorities should be considered as a ground for terminating the VFA,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.
“The Philippine government must stand its ground and not be pushed around by the US, not when a Filipino was killed and the interest of justice is at stake,” he said in a statement.
The VFA only allows the Philippine government to request custody of an erring American soldier in extraordinary cases, and that the determination of whether a US serviceman will be placed under Philippine custody while undergoing investigation and trial will still depend on the US government, according to Bayan.
“The Philippine government does not have to beg the US for custody of the accused US marine. A refusal by the US to turn over Pemberton is an affront to our sovereignty. Filipinos must not allow this to happen,” Reyes said.
Bayan also called on the people to support the family of Laude “because they are facing an uphill battle for justice.”
“Has any Philippine investigator actually talked to Pemberton? Have Philippine authorities even been given access to the US Marine?” Reyes asked.
He also criticized the US government for its policy of avoiding the criminal jurisdiction of host countries. Historically, the odds do not look good for host countries, according to Reyes.
Bayan said that in 1977, out of 14,263 cases where primary concurrent jurisdiction by foreign nations applied to erring US troops, the US government was able to obtain 13,906 waivers of jurisdiction, a 97.5 percent waiver rate.
In 1991, the US got 11,751 waivers of jurisdiction out of 13,128 cases where a foreign nation had primary jurisdiction over erring US troops, an 89.5 percent waiver rate involving US troops, the group said.
“We should support the family. They will be going up against the most powerful military machinery in the world. They will be going up against the subservient Philippine government. We have seen how a prolonged case like that of Daniel Smith and ‘Nicole’ eventually took its toll on the victim,” Reyes said.
“We cannot place our trust in the VFA. The US will always find ways to undermine cases and secure their personnel while maintaining military agreements that almost make the commission of the same violations almost a certainty,” he added.
Bayan also reminded Aquino of his earlier campaign promise to review the VFA in light of controversies involving the trial of the 2006 Subic rape case.
“As far as we know, an inter-agency review was supposed to be conducted yet no details have been released to this date. It is already more than 4 years into Aquino’s term and he has done nothing to address the concerns on the VFA,” Reyes said.
“Aquino himself, when he was senator, voted for Senate Resolution No. 1356, authored by Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago, which asked the Arroyo administration to give a notice of termination of the agreement in case there is an objection from the US to the renegotiation. Has Aquino forgotten?” he said.
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