Fight for custody, Escudero prods gov’t officials
MANILA, Philippines–Where’s the burning anger and righteous indignation from Philippine government officials?
Sen. Francis Escudero on Sunday castigated administration officials for being “gun-shy” in the face of the killing of a transgender Filipino allegedly by a US serviceman in Olongapo City.
Speaking on dzBB radio, Escudero said Filipino authorities should fight for custody of Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton of the US Marine Corps, and should at the very least insist on seeing him detained by his superiors.
Escudero said the Department of Justice should have been leading the charge, but added that he had not seen such an effort.
Pemberton has been tagged as the suspect in the killing of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.
Question of custody
The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) states that the Philippines has jurisdiction over a case involving a US soldier suspected of involvement in a crime in the Philippines, but the United States would have custody of the soldier. The Philippines, however, may also ask to take custody of the suspect.
Escudero said the problem was that the Philippines has only the word of American officials with regard to Pemberton’s detention. He said Philippine officials could ask the Americans to let them see Pemberton being detained, but at this point, they haven’t seen him.
They should also fight for custody and not be timid about it, he said.
“What I’m looking for and which I don’t see and feel now is the fire and effort, the fury and righteous indignation from Philippine authorities to fight for custody,” he said.
Granted, under the treaty, the Americans can have custody first of their soldiers accused of crimes, he said. But he said Philippine officials could pursue the request to take custody of the suspect.
Fighting for a Filipino
It’s OK for there to be a bit of a tussle with the United States over the custody issue as long as the Philippine government is fighting for a fellow Filipino, he said.
“Have we seen them trying to get custody, instead of having the [Department of Foreign Affairs] itself saying in a press con that under the treaty [the United States] can have custody, and that we can ask for him, but [the United States] will have custody first? Then why don’t we ask for custody and let the Americans cite the treaty to justify their custody and say the matter should be discussed?” he said.
‘Why suddenly gun-shy?’
Escudero also pointed out that Justice Secretary Leila de Lima has issued a lot of opinions and statements on various issues, but he has not seen a similar effort from her in Laude’s case.
“I usually see the honorable [justice] secretary commenting on many issues. I also wish to see her speak up about this and care for and protect the rights of victims of crimes, even if the suspect is an American,” he said.
He said De Lima had been brave and had sometimes bypassed diplomatic niceties for the sake of helping Filipinos. The same should be seen in Laude’s case, he said.
“Why have we been suddenly so gun-shy and so careful, just because an American is involved? This is our country, not theirs. The victim is a Filipino. They are not the ones aggravated here, we are. If there is anyone who should be angry, it is [we], not [they],” he added.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV on Sunday also said the Philippines should build a detention center that would conform to the standards of the American justice system, so that US troops could be placed there if necessary.
Trillanes, also interviewed on dzBB, said that had such detention center been built, for instance inside Camp Aguinaldo, there would be little squabble on where to detain US soldiers.
He noted that the VFA provides a possible solution to the custody issue. Under the treaty, the place of detention must be mutually agreed upon by both parties.
He also said it was understandable for US authorities to want to offer protection for their troops who are still presumed innocent until proven guilty.
So far, he said, the United States has been complying with and has not violated any terms of the VFA. It has recognized Philippine jurisdiction over Pemberton’s case, which is why it has not allowed his ship to leave, he said.
But the challenge is also for the Americans to show they are cooperating with the investigation, because otherwise, the impression would be they are disrespecting Filipinos and they would be alone in such a fight, he said.
If there is a proper request to produce Pemberton, they should bring him out, he said.
As for checking on Pemberton on the USS Peleliu, he said, there are certain protocols that must be observed. Because of security concerns, not just anybody could go marching into a US ship. The same goes for vessels of the Philippine Navy, he added.
Trillanes also said those who have been raging against the custody provisions in the VFA should blame the senators who agreed to these.
Things for review
Escudero, who has called for a review of the VFA, said the things that should be studied were custody and the status of the American soldiers as visiting troops.
He said if the soldiers were here 365 days a year, that could not be considered a visit.
He also said the Philippines was receiving a comparatively small amount from the United States, especially when compared to the aid it has been funneling to other countries.
The Philippines, while it can expect to receive US assistance if it is invaded, cannot depend on the United States when it comes to territorial disputes, including the one it has with China, Escudero said.
US support has been touted by some as a crucial crutch for the Philippines in its territorial dispute with China. But the United States has not categorically said it will come to the Philippines’ defense in case tension with China escalates over disputed waters.
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