Laude case bolsters need to review VFA further—Palace
MANILA, Philippines – The death of a transgender allegedly in the hands of a US Marine strengthened the need to further review the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to ensure that the country’s interests are promoted and that justice is served to Filipinos, a Malacanang spokesman said Thursday.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. issued the statement in response to questions on how the alleged death of Jeffrey “Jennifer” laude, a transgender, in the hands of Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, a US Marine, would affect the VFA.
“Siyempre po, ang pagkamatay ng ating mamamayan ay ikinalulungkot po natin…Hindi po ito katanggap-tanggap sa atin kaya’t nagkakaroon ng mas matibay na batayan para suriin muli ang mga probisyon ng umiiral na kasunduan para matiyak natin ang pag-iral ng pambansang interes at paggawad ng katarungan sa ating mga mamamayan,” Coloma said during a press briefing.
(Of course the death of a fellow Filipino saddens us…It is unacceptable to us that is why we now have a stronger bases to review the provisions of the agreement to ensure that national interest and justice for our citizens will prevail.)
Back in 2010, just months after President Benigno Aquino III took office, he ordered the review of the VFA, which details the rules on the movement of American soldiers participating in military exercises in the Philippines, through a presidential commission headed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr.
Ochoa then said that they would look at the custody provision of the agreement, which has been under fire since the controversial “Subic rape case” where US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was convicted initially for the rape of “Nicole”.
The decision, however, was overturned after Nicole recanted her testimony.
“Naisagawa ‘yung review na ‘yon at nakipag-ugnayan ang ating pamahalaan sa pamahalaan ng Estados Unidos, ngunit sa pagsasagawa nito ay hindi humantong sa anumang pormal na kasunduan hinggil sa pagbabago ng anumang probisyon, at ang reyalidad ay inabutan po ito nitong kasalukuyang kaganapan,” Coloma admitted.
(That review pushed through with the coordination of the Philippine and US governments but in the course of the review, there was no formal agreement on the revision of any provision. And in reality, the recent incident caught up with it already.)
According to Article V, Section 6 of the VFA, custody of a US personnel accused of a crime “shall immediately reside with United States military authorities” amid criminal jurisdiction of the Philippines.
During Smith’s trial, the Marine stayed at the US embassy and remained there despite being convicted by a regional trial court. The Court of Appeals, however, reversed the decision.
Pemberton, who has yet to be served with an arrest warrant, is detained at the USS Peleliu. Like Smith, he is in the country for the joint military exercises.
Coloma said the custody issue “was addressed (in the review) and it’s still being addressed because of the new development that has arisen.”
He refused to give the government’s position on the custody provision, saying it will be announced by the Department of Foreign Affairs.
“Our position is that justice must be served and we would like to be able to protect the interest, the national interest of the Philippines and its citizens,” he merely said.
However, when asked if the government still needed the VFA, Coloma said, “Ang VFA ay kasama doon sa istruktura ng ating tanggulang pambansa kaya’t ito ay umiiral pa at ito ay sinusundan pa natin sa kasalukuyan.”
(The VFA is part of the national defense structure that is why it is still in place and being implemented.)
Nevertheless, Coloma said they won’t stop lawmakers from calling for a separate review or for the abrogation of the VFA.
“We recognize the right of Congress to pursue such initiative as the legislature is a separate and a co-equal branch,” he explained.
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