US may take custody of Pemberton if VFA scrapped: Marcos

Katrina Domingo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 27 2020 09:13 PM

MANILA - An American soldier who killed a Filipino transgender woman may be flown back to the United States should the Philippines scrap its Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States, Senator Imee Marcos said Monday.

US Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton has been jailed in Camp Aguinaldo since 2017 after an Olongapo court sentenced him up to 10 years in prison for killing Jennifer Laude inside a motel room.

“Baka matuwa pa nga ang US pag nawala na ang VFA kasi, pwede pa rin naman pumasok ang mga tropang Amerikano sa bansa natin dahil sa Mutual Defense Treaty at Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, pero wala nang hawak ang Pilipinas sa mga kasong kriminal kung mangyari man," Marcos said in a statement.

In the absence of the VFA that governs the movement of American troops in the Philippines, the US may refer to international law which states foreign troops who commit crimes abroad may be tried in their home country, the senator said.

“Baka makaswerte pa ulit si Pemberton. Wala na nga siya sa ordinaryong kulungan, baka maiklian pa ang kanyang sentensya. Dagdag-sakit para sa pamilya ni Jennifer,” Marcos said.

TRANSFER TO BILIBID

But the Laude family’s legal counsel thinks otherwise, saying the abrogation of the VFA may finally allow the transfer of Pemberton to the national penitentiary instead of serving his sentence in an air-conditioned container van in Camp Aguinaldo.

“It has only been the VFA that has prevented him from experiencing that life in Muntinlupa. He deserves to be in Muntinlupa,” Laude family lawyer Harry Roque told ABS-CBN News in a phone interview.

“It is clear in the VFA itself that after conviction, jurisdiction lies with Philippine authorities, but the place of detention shall be agreed upon by Philippine and US authorities,” he said.

“Should we abrogate the VFA, I will be the one who will personally fetch Pemberton and deliver him to Muntinlupa,” he said.

GRAY AREA

It remains unclear if the abrogation of the VFA will affect Pemberton’s case, or if a change in policy will only cover cases filed after that.

“Maybe that’s for the Americans to complain about,” Roque said, noting that only the Philippine Supreme Court can settle such contentions.

“I think there is no damage to Philippine sovereignty if we deliver him to Muntinlupa,” he said.

President Rodrigo Duterte threatened last week to rescind the agreement after the US cancelled Senator Ronald Dela Rosa’s multiple entry visa.

The US Embassy did not state a reason for the cancellation, but the former police chief suspects it may be linked to his role in Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs.

Senator Bong Go, Duterte’s decades-long aide, said foreign affairs officials have been studying the impact of cancelling one of Manila’s three alliance pacts with the world’s most powerful military force.