Transgender’s murder gives PH more reason to review VFA with US—Palace
MANILA, Philippines—The killing of transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in Olongapo City has given the Philippine government more reason to revisit the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, a Malacañang spokesperson said on Thursday.
Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma admitted that Manila and Washington had not reached any “formal agreement on changing any provision” since they began reviewing the VFA in 2010.
“And the reality is this incident happened [while the review is ongoing],” he told reporters, referring to the killing of Laude allegedly by visiting US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton.
“We are saddened by the death of our citizen and this is not acceptable, that’s why there is a stronger basis to again examine the provisions of the existing agreement to ensure our national interest and that our people would get justice.”
Months after assuming office in 2010, the Aquino administration talked tough on the need to revisit the VFA, particulary the provision granting the US custody over its personnel caught committing an offense here.
“We don’t want that happening again. So we want to review it again so that, at least, we can handle it better…Hopefully, it doesn’t happen again during our time,” Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. said then, referring to the case of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who was transferred from the Makati city jail to the US Embassy, after he was found guilty of raping Filipino woman “Nicole” in Subic in 2005.
The transfer was made possible on the strength of the controversial VFA provision, which states: “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.”
The US Embassy kept Smith while his conviction was on appeal at the Court of Appeals. The Court of Appeals eventually acquitted him when Nicole recanted. There were reports that the two parties settled out of court.
Coloma was not aware of the details of the supposed review or why both sides failed to reach any agreement particularly on the custody provision. He said the matter “is still being addressed because of the new development that has arisen.”
“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 said.
“The government is steadfast in its determination to get justice for the death of Jennifer [Jeffrey] Laude. The Philippine government is working closely with the US government to ensure that the ends of justice will be served.”
Laude’s killing has revived calls to abrogate the VFA. Coloma said the Palace acknowledged “the right of Congress to pursue such initiative as the legislature is a separate and co-equal branch.”
But he maintained that the VFA has been “included in the structure of our national defense.”
The militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan recalled that President Aquino, when he was still a senator in 2009, had voted in favor of Senate Resolution No. 1356.
The resolution called on the Arroyo administration to terminate the VFA if Washington would object to a renegotiation of the 1998 agreement.
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