A murder complaint was filed on Wednesday before the Office of Olongapo City Prosecutor Emilie Fe M. delos Santos against US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton in the death of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.
The complaint was filed by lawyer Harry Roque in behalf of the Laude family.
In a radio interview Wednesday night, Roque said the Philippine and US governments must coordinate in pushing the case forward.
With the filing of the case, the custody of Pemberton looms as a sensitive issue during a review of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Eduardo Oban Jr., the executive director of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFACom), said on Wednesday the ongoing review of the 1999 accord does not cover the contentious provision regarding jurisdiction over an American serviceman who has been charged in a Philippine court.
Under Article 5 Paragraph 6 of the agreement, custody of US military personnel “over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities.”
Oban said there is “continuing discussion on the refinement or clarification of certain provisions of the agreement” but made it clear that the review was for “clarificatory” purposes and not intended to amend the VFA.
But he added that “we’ll have to find out when we get there if it needs to be amended.”
A source in Philippine diplomatic circles said the Philippines has warned of repercussions if the US does not fully cooperate with police officials who are investigating the death of Laude in a motel room in Olongapo, on Saturday night.
Laude was last seen with a “foreign national” who fits the description of Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.
The source, who refused to be identified, hinted that the repercussions could refer to complications in the signing into law of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) between the Philippines and the US that was approved last March. The accord would allow American troops greater access to Philippine facilities in support of US President Barack Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia.
Admiral Samuel Locklear 3rd, commander of the US Pacific Fleet, locked down six US ships that are in the Philippines in the aftermath of the incident.
The ships docked at the Subic Freeport and Puerto Princesa City, Palawan, for the annual Phiblex, a training exercise between Philippine and US military forces.
The vessels, except for USS Peleliu where Pemberton and other possible witnesses are detained, got the clearance to leave the Philippines on Thursday, October 16.
Oban made it clear that the VFA review was not prompted by the killing of Laude.
“We look at certain provisions and we ask some clarification on the US side,” he said.
No formal charges have been filed against Pemberton because the Philippine National Police (PNP) “doesn’t want to undermine the integrity of the investigation and thoroughness of the process,” he said.
According to Oban, he is yet to ask the PNP if it has interviewed Pemberton.
There is no guarantee that the US will cede full custody of Pemberton to the Philippines, but he said it is a sign of “full cooperation” if it does.
In the case of Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who was charged with raping Filipina Suzette Nicolas in 2005, the US did not turn over Smith to Philippine authorities even after he was found guilty by a Makati City court.
Smith stayed in the Makati City Jail for two weeks before US officials transferred him to the US Embassy in Manila.
The case was dismissed after Nicolas retracted her statement.
Gabriela Rep. Emmi de Jesus slammed President Benigno Aquino 3rd for signing with Locklear this week agreements for 426 joint Philippine-US military activities two days after the killing of Laude.
Malacañang spokesman Edwin Lacierda fended off criticisms that Aquino reneged on his “promise” to review the VFA when he was still a senator by passing the buck to the DFA.
Reacting to a statement by Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) that reminded Aquino that he was a signatory to a Senate resolution that called for the termination of the VFA unless it was renegotiated, Lacierda said they would rather “defer to the DFA.”
WITH REPORTS FROM BERNICE CAMILLE BAUZON, AND JOEL M. SY EGCO AND AFP