“What kind of government is this that instead of ensuring complete justice for its own citizen who was victim of a hate crime at the hand of a US soldier, busies itself on how to protect the safety of the killer?”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Progressive lawmakers lambasted both Philippine and US governments for “mocking Philippine laws” in invoking the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to give “special treatment” to the US serviceman convicted of killing a Filipina transgender.
Convicted US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton continues to be detained in a special facility of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) inside Camp Aguinaldo, instead of the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) where regular convicts serve their sentence.
On Dec. 7, the Philippine Commission on Visiting Forces (PCVF) submitted to the Olongapo City regional trial court branch 74 a copy of the Memorandum of Agreement between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), which designates the AFP Custodial Center in Camp Aguinaldo for Pemberton’s detention. Also submitted to the court were the exchange of notes between the Philippine and US governments which both agreed on the said site for Pemberton’s detention, said a news report.
The Olongapo City court is yet to issue a new commitment order for Pemberton.
On Dec. 1, Olongapo city Judge Roline Ginez-Jubalde found Pemberton guilty of homicide and sentenced him to six to 12 years in prison for killing Laude on Oct. 11, 2014. The judge said Pemberton is considered a “national prisoner” and ordered him committed to the NBP in Muntinlupa city, pending an agreement between Philippine and US officials, in line with the VFA.
A few hours after the promulgation, Ginez-Jubalde ordered Pemberton’s detention for five days, back at the Jusmag, also known as the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) facility in Camp Aguinaldo. The order was in response to a motion for clarification by Pemberton’s lawyers, and a manifestation in court by PCVF Executive Director Eduardo Oban Jr who referred to the said MOA.
“Uncle Sam’s’ hand is clearly behind the maneuver of Pemberton’s custody inside the AFP facility,” said Anakpawis partylist Rep. Fernando Hicap in a statement. The said MOA between the AFP and BuCor was signed on Dec. 1, the same day of the court promulgation.
The MOA also stated that Pemberton will temporarily stay at the Jusmag facility under BuCor custody, while the AFP Custodial Center is being renovated. The BuCor will shoulder expenses incurred during detention of the US serviceman, who will also be given medical check-up twice a week.
“What kind of government is this that instead of ensuring complete justice for its own citizen who was victim of a hate crime at the hand of a US soldier, busies itself on how to protect the safety of the killer? The decision of downgrading the case from murder to homicide was disappointing enough, but transferring Laude’s killer in a US government-choice detention facility was an utter insult to Laude’s family and the Philippine sovereignty,” Hicap said.
Activists and LGBT groups are calling for the abrogation of the VFA, which, they said, allows US troops to get away with treating Filipinos “like animals.” Pemberton’s lawyers are working for his acquittal by higher courts, while a former defense lawyer of rape convict US Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith floated his opinion about Pemberton’s possible release on bail.
While in Rome, President Aquino denied giving special treatment to the convicted US serviceman, saying that because the detention facility is “different” does not make it special.
Hicap said the case exposes how defense agreements, such as the VFA and Mutual Defense Treaty protects only American interests.
“Our citizen’s rights were violated. Why is there a need for negotiations on where the criminal should be jailed?” …The Aquino government is the real obstruction to find genuine justice for Laude,” Hicap said.
Also on Dec. 7, Gabriela Women’s partylist representatives led the Makabayan coalition’s filing of a resolution, expressing the sense of the House of Representatives calling for VFA abrogation and “condemning the blatant disregard of Philippine sovereignty by the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement as shown in the consequences of the convictions involving American Military Service Personnel.”
The resolution cited how the VFA justifies the continuing presence of US troops despite abuses committed by US military personnel and how the VFA allows the outright mockery of Philippine sovereignty and the Philippine justice system.
“Filipinos are getting killed and raped and trampled on like rags under this agreement. The US is getting away with this national travesty against us because the Aquino administration is tied up to the VFA. We are being violated as a nation and we cannot allow this to continue,” said Gabriela Women’s Party Representative Emmi De Jesus.
De Jesus also said that President Aquino should be held accountable “for virtually siding with the United States in giving preferential treatment for offenders who flout Philippine laws by virtue of the VFA, as proven by the government’s accession to US demands that Pemberton remain in American custody.”