Lawmaker to Obama: Waive custody of US serviceman suspect in Olongapo slay

“The fight for justice for Ms. Laude has just begun, but the Aquino government is already backing out. It is clear that the Filipino people have nothing to expect from this administration but continued subservience to Washington’s orders.” — Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon

By DEE AYROSO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Kabataan Party-list Rep. Terry Ridon called on US President Barack Obama to waive the custody of Olongapo slay suspect US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton to Philippine authorities.

Meanwhile, youth and gay rights activists held a rally on Oct. 14 in front of the US embassy in Roxas Boulevard in Manila, and called for Pemberton’s transfer to Philippine authorities. They condemned the Aquino administration’s “subservience” for defending the US custody of the suspect under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The Philippine National Police on Tuesday named Pemberton as the suspect in the killing of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, 26, a transgender woman who was found dead on Oct. 11 at Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City, Zambales. He was positively identified by a witness from a photo lineup.

A news report quoting a police spot report said Pemberton was seen walking out with Laude from Ambyanz Disco Bar at 10:55 p.m., then proceeded with him to check into a room at Celzone Lodge. Pemberton walked out of the motel at 11:30 p.m.. At 11:45, a hotel employee who checked their room found Laude’s body on the bathroom floor, wrapped only in a towel, with his head sunk into the toilet bowl.

Photo grabbed from Corky Hope Marañan of Kapederasyon's Facebook account
Photo grabbed from Corky Hope Marañan of Kapederasyon’s Facebook account

“It is in the power of the US president to waive custody of the suspect in favor of the Philippines, as the VFA is only considered as an executive agreement on the part of the US,” Ridon said in an Oct. 14 statement. Obama can issue an executive order waiving the custody, he said.

Pemberton belongs to the 2nd Battalion of the 9th Marines, and was part of the just concluded Philippine-US Bilateral Exercises (Phiblex). He came on board USS Peleliu, which remains docked in Subic bay pending the investigation.

Under the VFA, a US serviceman charged with violation of Philippine laws “shall immediately reside with US military authorities” but the Philippine government may request for his handover.

“The fight for justice for Ms. Laude has just begun, but the Aquino government is already backing out. It is clear that the Filipino people have nothing to expect from this administration but continued subservience to Washington’s orders,” Ridon said.

Lopsided

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said that Laude’s murder is “a consequence of lopsided military agreements” between the US and the Philippines.

“The US-RP Military Bases Agreement to the Visiting Forces Agreement and the US-GPH Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement have become licenses for numerous gross transgressions, especially on the rights of Filipino women and children,” said Palabay.

Former Gabriela Women’s Partylist representative Liza Maza said the US could invoke Edca to settle the transgender’s killing. She said that if Philippine authorities insist on charging the American marine, the US could “assert Edca” which provides for settlement of conflict through negotiations.

“They could have negotiations, but the case will not be covered by the (Philippine) court,” Maza said. “Edca is worse that VFA.”

She added that the American custody of Pemberton “is tantamount to harbouring a criminal.”
Protesters at the US embassy were led by the League of Filipino Students (LFS), the LGBT Sectoral Organization (Kapederasyon), Anakbayan and Gabriela. They demanded justice for Laude and called on Pemberton’s imprisonment in a Philippine jail. They also called for the scrapping of the VFA and Edca.

“We demand the US embassy and the Aquino government to stop coddling the perpetrator of the crime,” said LFS National Spokesperson Charlotte Velasco.

“Jennifer was killed because of the hate, discrimination, and violence dominating our culture today. But more than that, because of the oppressive agreements EDCA and VFA that favor the US military over the Filipino people,” Velasco said.

She warned that similar crimes will rise along with the building of US bases in the country. “Because of EDCA and VFA, the US Marine behind Jennifer’s death and all US troops perpetrating cases of abuses and killings may easily escape the hand of justice,” Velasco said. ()

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