Why the DFA won’t fight US for custody of Pemberton

By Jenny Reyes, ABS-CBN News

MANILA – The Philippines has no plan to appeal the decision of the United States (US) to retain custody of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, the suspect in the killing of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude last October.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said the US decision is consistent with the stipulations of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that affords the US government the right to retain custody of a suspect until the completion of the judicial process.

Jose said they are confident that the US government will stay true to its promise to have Pemberton appear before the court once the proceedings begin.

Pemberton is currently detained at the Joint US Military Assistance Group inside Camp Aguinaldo.

But Jose refused to call it joint custody and instead labelled it as joint guarding as both members of the Philippine and US military are guarding the container van were Pemberton is currently detained.

The DFA assured that if Pemberton is convicted of the crime, he will be transferred to Philippine custody and detained in a Philippine facility.

Jose said there will not be a repeat of the case of Lance Corporal Daniel Smith who detained briefly at the Makati City jail after conviction by the lower court but was later transferred to US embassy since the US argued that the appeal of the conviction is still part of the judicial process, which meant that Smith still had to stay in US custody. A later Supreme Court ruling, however, declared this was not in accordance with the VFA.

NO TALKS ON PEMBERTON’S TRANSFER

Meanwhile, Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin and Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief of staff General Gregorio Catapang Jr. said there are no talks about transferring Pemberton to a different detention facility once trial for the murder of Laude begins.

“We have bases near Olongapo City that can be mutually agreed upon, pero hindi pa pinag-usapan ito,” Catapang said.

The AFP said it has no say on where Pemberton should be detained.

“Kami po talaga ay suporta lang sa lahat ng hakbang na gagawin ng ating gobyerno alinsunod sa Visiting Forces Agreement,” AFP spokesperson Col. Restituto Padilla said.

Padilla refuted allegations that the AFP was helping coddle Pemberton.

“Ang hangad po ng Armed Forces, ang hangad po ng buong gobyerno, mabigyan ng hustisya ang pamilya Laude at mangibabaw po yun sa lahat,” he said.

“Kung sinabi nila ang takdang panahon na dumulog sa korte yung akusado, sisiguraduhin po natin base sa ating usapan sa mga kasama natin sa Estados Unidos na dalhin sa korte kung saan siya dapat humarap,” he added.

Padilla said he believes that the Americans do not plan on running from their obligation to subject Pemberton to the Philippine justice system.

“Hindi kami naniniwalang titiwalag sila sa commitment nila,” he said. — With report by Chiara Zambrano, ABS-CBN News

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