Issue over custody of US soldier may stall filing of murder rap in court—lawmaker
MANILA, Philippines—The question of who takes custody of Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, the suspect in the killing of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude, is threatening to derail the immediate filing of charges against the American serviceman, according to an Olongapo police official.
Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon, who went to Olongapo to lead a preliminary probe, said on Wednesday, that Chief Insp. Gil Domingo, the commander of the police station handling the case, revealed to his group that the custody issue has slowed the criminal prosecution of the suspect.
“The Olongapo police [are] actually adamant on beginning the inquest proceedings against Pemberton. However, the issue of custody is stalling the process and leaves the PNP no choice but to go through direct filing,” Ridon said in a statement.
Ridon divulged these updates on the day that the family of the victim, transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, filed a murder complaint against Pemberton at the Olongapo prosecutor’s office.
“During inquest proceedings, the PNP [Philippine National Police] is duty-bound to produce the suspect in their custody. But because of Pentagon’s insistence on Pemberton’s custody, Philippine authorities are left with no choice but to pursue a direct filing in the fiscal’s office,” the legislator said.
“The implication of having to go through direct filing is that it provides the opportunity for Pentagon to whisk Pemberton away from the country, given that technically, no charge has been filed and no warrant of arrest has been issued at this point,” Ridon said.
Ridon said Domingo also told him that the Olongapo police had already drafted the criminal case against Pemberton and were only waiting for the autopsy report to complete the filing.
Pemberton is to be charged with murder.
Domingo had assured Ridon that the PNP would file the complaint with the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office “within the week.” (This happened on Wednesday, with the Laude family, accompanied by policemen, filing the complaint with the prosecutor’s office on Wednesday.)
But the congressman said he was not convinced that this move would be sufficient in ensuring that the Philippine justice system’s jurisdiction over Pemberton would be honored.
“The delay in the filing of charges against Pemberton due to custody issues should be reason enough for Washington to waive custody and for the Philippine government to insist custody of Pemberton,” Ridon said.
At this point, Pemberton’s custody is “solely based on the mere voluntary cooperation of the US military,” he said.
“This custody issue is a clear proof that the VFA [Visiting Forces Agreement] is truly an unequal treaty. Instead of protecting Filipinos, the provisions of the VFA on custody of criminally liable military servicemen are actually barring us from exacting justice,” Ridon said.
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