Miriam: PH has primary jurisdiction over US soldier
MANILA - Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario promised the Philippines will not surrender its jurisdiction over Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, the suspect in the killing of a transgender Filipino.
He said the government has not hesitated to inform the US that the Philippines is exercising its primary jurisdiction over the case. He said the Philippines will not concede this right.
Del Rosario said this is because of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which he said erased previous practices where crimes committed by foreign soldiers can only be subjected to their own country’s court system.
He said that because of the VFA, "we are now exercising our jurisdiction over this heinous crime allegedly committed by a US serviceman."
"We fully expect the US therefore to cooperate with Philippine government in the pursuit of justice," he said.
He noted that Pemberton is now detained at Camp Aguinaldo.
AFP officials said the Philippines and the US have “joint custody” with Pemberton there. A statement from the US Embassy in Manila, however, said Pemberton was moved to Camp Aguinaldo but will be held under US custody.
Del Rosario said the US has a right to retain custody of Pemberton sans a conviction.
"On the issue of custody over the accused and following the SC pronouncement...we are aware that prior to conviction, the US has a right to retain custody over its servicemen under Art 5, Sec 6 of the VFA," he said.
He said the right can be waived.
When a warrant is issued, "we will request the US to turn over the servicemen’s custody to us."
Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who called for a Senate hearing amid the death of transgender Jennifer Laude, said jurisdiction over the suspect resides primarily in the Philippine government.
In a speech before the start of the Senate hearing, Santiago highlighted that since primary jurisdiction is with the Philippines, it follows that it should also have custody of the suspect.
Santiago initiated the hearing amid her calls to scrap the VFA, the treaty now being used in the debate over custody of Pemberton.
Santiago said, “Under the VFA, the Philippines has primary jurisdiction over the marine involved, because the murder took place in Philippine territory, and constitutes a crime under the Philippine Penal Code.”
Santiago admits, however, that if there is a problem in interpretations, “it arises from the iniquitous language of the VFA."
"Unless the preliminary investigation and trial show otherwise, a U.S. marine has committed murder in cold blood on a Filipino.”
Santiago slammed the continued “gross inequality” between the Philippines and the US under the VFA.
She likened the country to a “stillborn,” whose umbilical cord has yet to be cut from the US.
“Never in the annals of modern political history has a country been so manipulated to serve the interest of another, and taught to be so ironically grateful for such an inequitable relationship,” she said.
She said the VFA never gave the Philippines the upper hand.
“And yet some Filipinos prefer to gloss over this sorry record of atrocities committed against civilians by American servicemen, because of paranoia stemming from the fear that our country will become a ‘failed state,’ if we distance ourselves from American foreign policy,” she said.