MANILA, Philippines - A “common interpretation” of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) – particularly the provision on custody – is being worked out by the United States with Philippine authorities, Ambassador Philip Goldberg said yesterday.
Goldberg said there is a need to reconcile differences over the interpretation of some provisions in the VFA in the light of confusion arising from the murder case filed against US Marine Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton. The Marine is a suspect in the killing of transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in Olongapo City last October.
The US has rejected demands that Pemberton be turned over to Philippine authorities, citing provisions in the VFA.
“That (custody issue) is something that has been talked about the last few days and I think it is misinterpreted,” Goldberg said over ANC television on Thursday.
“What we are trying to do is to avoid any differences, to try to work together with Philippine government, with the judicial authorities, to make sure that the VFA has a common interpretation and that we move forward to make sure that justice is done in the case,” he said.
The US embassy in Manila officially responded on Wednesday to the Department of Foreign Affairs’ diplomatic note by saying that the US would retain custody of Pemberton.
“So we are going back and forth about this issue but at the same time working out what I think are mutually satisfactory solutions so that we can keep the suspect for example – as we have in Camp Aguinaldo – where we both have a role in making sure the suspect appears for trial,” he added.
“The issue of custody is an important issue. It is one that is important to us as well as to the Philippines because we have certain legal and service related obligations to a US soldier, who in this case a Marine,” Goldberg said.
The DFA on Thursday said it would no longer contest US custody of Pemberton, saying the US justification for keeping him while on trial was “not inconsistent” with the provisions of the VFA.
Pemberton appeared before the Olongapo City court yesterday and met the family of Laude for the first time. His arraignment did not push through, however, after his lawyers moved that the proceedings be suspended pending a Department of Justice decision on their request to have the case downgraded from murder to homicide.
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