Panelo: PH to keep custody of convicted Laude killer even if VFA is junked

Published January 30, 2020, 12:00 AM

by manilabulletin_admin

By Genalyn Kabiling

An American soldier convicted of the killing of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude may remain detained at a military camp if it will ensure his safety, a Palace official said Thursday.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton will stay under the jurisdiction of the Philippines even after the country’s Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States is formally terminated.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo (PCOO / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)
Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo (PCOO / FILE PHOTO / MANILA BULLETIN)

“Doon pa rin siya sa dati. Eh doon siya nilagay ng court (He will stay there. He was placed there by the court),” Panelo said in a Palace press briefing when asked if Pemberton will stay at Camp Aguinaldo or be transferred to a local jail.

“Kung mas safe siya roon, eh. Kaya lang siguro nilagay siya doon because of his safety (If he is safer there, maybe that’s why he was placed there because of his safety).”

Pemberton was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison over the 2014 death of Laude in Olongapo.  He has remained in detention at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City since his 2015 conviction.

Former Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, also legal counsel of the Laude family, reportedly intends to seek the transfer of Pemberton to the state penitentiary.

“Now that the President has terminated the VFA, Pemberton, who is currently under the jurisdiction of the Bureau of Corrections (BOC) and allegedly detained in a golden cage in Aguinaldo, should now be transferred forthwith to Muntinlupa to be in the company of his fellow killers such as the Ampatuans,” he said.

He also appealed to the military “to exercise vigilance as US authorities will definitely attempt to spirit him out of the country to prevent his detention in Muntinlupa where he truly belongs.”

Meanwhile, Panelo said the country won’t lose custody of Pemberton just because President Duterte has decided to terminate the VFA.

The agreement governs the conduct of American troops visiting the country, including giving the Philippines jurisdiction over US military personnel who commit crimes under local laws.

“We acquired jurisdiction over him and therefore the jurisdiction remains. You must remember that the VFA states that we cannot acquire jurisdiction unless of particular importance and we already did that,” he said.

“Hence, logic will tell us that the termination of the VFA will not affect the acquisition of jurisdiction by the Philippine courts.”

Duterte earlier ruled that his decision to terminate the VFA with the United States is final. He said he was “not joking” when he sought the termination of the deal after denouncing the US’s alleged interference in local affairs.

Panelo said Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. is expected to write the letter informing Washington about the President’s decision. “We will have to write them formally, but the effectivity is 180 days after.”

In a Palace press briefing, Panelo said, “[Pemberton] will remain in custody with us.”

He said the VFA termination has no impact on the country’s other defense deals with the United States such as the Mutual Defense Treaty and the Enhance Defense Cooperation Agreement.

“It (VFA) refers to privileges of military personnel with respect to acquisition of jurisdiction in relation to the commission of crimes as well as the movement of their aircrafts and vessels. The other agreements will remain,” he said.

He said the Palace would not interfere with the Senate’s prerogative to review the country’s defense agreements with the US “[A] practice of the Executive Department is, not intrude nor interfere with the co-equal branch.”