DFA serves subpoena for Pemberton at US Embassy
A subpoena for the US Marine accused of killing a Filipino transgender was delivered to the US Embassy in Manila in the first step toward bringing the case to court.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Office of the Olongapo City Prosecutor served the subpeona and complaint against Private 1st Class Joseph Scott Pemberton after a murder charge was filed against the 19-year-old Marine in the death of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude last Saturday.
Pemberton has been confined aboard the USS Peleliu, one of the US warships docked on Subic Bay for the joint amphibious landing exercises between Philippine and US military forces that brought 4,000 US military personnel to the country.
The war games ended last October 10.
In a text message, Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said a subpoena for four US Marines to appear as witnesses was also presented to the embassy.
A preliminary investigation has been scheduled for October 21.
DFA Assistant Secretary Ed de Vega and Olongapo City Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos served the documents to the US Embassy.
The serving of the summons begins a long and complicated legal and diplomatic process in bringing to trial an American serviceman linked to a crime committed on Philippine soil.
Eduardo Oban, the executive director of the Presidential Commission on the VFA (VFACom), said the Philippines and US have to agree on the detention facility after a sentence is handed down.
Oban added that as stated in Article 5, Paragraph 10, of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), “the confinement or detention by Philippine authorities of United States personnel shall be carried out in facilities agreed on by appropriate Philippine and United States authorities.”
Oban and Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose, however, said the VFA also gives the Philippines jurisdiction over criminal cases such as that of Pemberton and Lance Corporal Daniel Smith in 2005.
Oban earlier said he hopes the controversial issues linked to Smith before will not happen again this time.
“We’ll make sure every step of the way, we’re in close coordination [with the US],” he added.
Smith spent two weeks at the Makati City Jail after he was found guilty of raping Suzette Nicolas in Subic.
He was turned over to US authorities and detained at the US Embassy in Manila while his case went to the Court of Appeals.
In the end, Nicolas retracted her statement, and Smith flew back to the US.
The issue with Pemberton’s custody is reminiscent of Smith’s case, in which the US rejected a Philippine request to have physical custody of the suspect.
The VFA provides that a US serviceman being tried for a criminal offense in a Philippine court must be in US custody “from the commission of the crime to the end of judicial proceedings.”
Militant groups have called for the scrapping of the VFA, a 1999 accord that aims to enhance military capabilities of the Philippines through training and joint exercises.
It was signed under the auspices of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT), to which the
United States expressed commitment this year in connection with the Philippines’ expanding territorial disputes with China.
Jose maintained that the VFA was not a “failure” in the case of Smith. Instead, it helped the Philippines assume jurisdiction over the case.
The same process will be followed in Pemberton’s case, he said.
But on Friday, Malacanang deputy spokesman Abigail Valte assured Laude’s family the government will insist on assuming custody over Pemberton.
Valte made the statement after Laude’s camp noted President Benigno Aquino 3rd’s apparent silence on the incident.
“We have a standing agreement with the United States that in cases like these, the Philippines has criminal jurisdiction, while the US has custody over the suspect,” she said.
But Valte added that the “agreement does not stop us from asking for custody.”
Calls for review and termination of the VFA have mounted after Pemberton was identified as a suspect in Laude’s killing.
Also on Friday, the Bukluran ng Manggagawang Pilipino (BMP) joined the clamor for justice for Laude.
The group said the killing of the 26-year-old transgender is tragic in itself.
“An apparent hate crime, her murder is not just an affront to the LGBT community who have long been exposed and subjected to sexist and patriarchal violence. It is an affront to us all, LGBT or not,” the BMP added in a statement.
With reports from Jomar Canlas, Catherine S. Valente And Jing Villamente