The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which was pushed into the spotlight after the killing of a Filipino transgender and the naming of a US Marine as a suspect, is under review by the executive department, according to Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
De Lima on Thursday said there are provisions in the agreement that need to be clarified because they are interpreted differently by the governments of the Philippines and the United States.
The review covers sections on the custody of a US soldier accused of committing a crime or offense in the Philippines, she added.
Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton was taken to Camp Aguinaldo on Wednesday for detention after being charged before the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office with the murder of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.
De Lima said the government can press for the custody of Pemberton once he is served an arrest warrant.
One of the five senators who voted against the ratification of the VFA in 1999 said the Pemberton case shows that the accord tilts heavily in favor of the US.
“My main objection is, why are we accepting that we Filipinos will be second-class citizens in our country. If I committed that crime, I will be in jail right away,” Sen. Sergio Osmeña 3rd said.
He added that he is not in favor of terminating the agreement because the US has been the country’s ally for so long.
But Osmena agreed that there is a need to revise the litigious provisions.
Osmeña, then Senators Teofisto Guingona Jr., Raul Roco, Aquilino Pimentel Jr. and Sen. Loren Legarda voted against the VFA because they found the provision on criminal jurisdiction unacceptable.
“They should be treated like everybody else, Filipino, Japanese, Europeans, who violated our laws. In much the same way that if I violate their law in the [United] States, I will go straight to jail,” Osmeña said.
Former senator Joker Arroyo said the custody arrangement for Pemberton showed that the US government does not believe in the Philippine justice system.
In a statement sent to the media, Arroyo suggested that members of the Senate take a close look at Pemberton’s case.
Arroyo said if the US cannot protect Filipino women from US servicemen, how can Filipinos rely on the US to live up to its commitments that are embodied in its treaties with the Philippines.
Pemberton is being detained inside the Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) compound in Camp Aguinaldo, the Philippine military’s national headquarters in Quezon City.