JOSEPH Scott Pemberton, the US Marine accused of murdering Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, will remain in US custody despite the arrest warrant issued against him by an Olongapo City court, an official said Wednesday.
US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said he had already notified the US Embassy in Manila of the US government’s intension to retain custody of the accused throughout the legal process.
“The Philippine government has notified us that it will request custody as it can under the Visiting Forces Agreement but we, under the Visiting Forces Agreement, can decide as we well to retain custody throughout the judicial process,” Goldberg told DzRH radio.
Malacañang said it expects the US government’s full cooperation as it seeks full custody of Pemberton.
“We certainly would expect full cooperation with the US Embassy with respect to this point,” presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda said.
But he acknowledged that the process of seeking custody of Pemberton would have to be done in accordance with the VFA.
“We formally seek custody of Mr. Pemberton but we have to go through the process within the purview of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” Lacierda said.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the Philippine government would be asserting its right to take custody of Pemberton following Goldberg’s statement.
She said Foreign Affairs officials had already started working to get sole custody of the accused through the process provided by the VFA.
“The VFA Commission and the DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] are already working on it by talking to the US Embassy and our counterparts,” De Lima said.
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago said she wanted Pemberton placed in a regular jail after the arrest warrant issued against him.
“Normally, any person who has been formally accused in court goes to the city jail, so he [Pemberton] should go there,” Santiago said.
“Otherwise we will be giving undue discrimination in favor of a foreign national.”
Senator Francis Escudero urged Foreign Affairs to seek custody of Pemberton.
Pemberton is accused of shoving Laude’s head into a toilet bowl inside a comfort room of the Celzone Motel in Olongapo City on Oct. 11 to drown him, and apparently after discovering he was not a woman.
Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 on Tuesday issued an arrest warrant against Pemberton, a day after state prosecutors filed a murder case against the US Marine.
Under the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement, the Philippine government may request custody of any American serviceman facing criminal charges here, but the US government may grant or reject such request.
Goldberg said the US government had agreed to have the judicial process under Philippine laws to run its course in accordance with the provisions of the VFA.
“The judicial process will continue here,” Goldberg said.
“The Philippine government has asserted jurisdiction in the case under the Visiting Forces Agreement, so we will proceed with the judicial process under Philippine law.”
Goldberg said the US could formally request jurisdiction over the trial under the VFA.
“We can request jurisdiction but it’s the Philippines’ decision where to have the trial of the first instance,” he said.
“That was a decision given under the VFA for the Philippines so that the trial will be held here. The custody issue is the right of the US under the VFA to maintain throughout the judicial proceedings.”
Pemberton is being held in a 20-foot air-conditioned van inside Camp Aguinaldo and is being guarded by a US soldier and Filipino soldiers.
“Where he is being held is within a joint facility because we have a particular office in Camp Aguinaldo…so there are Filipino officers who come in and out of that facility as well or nearby,” Goldberg said.
“But the inner security and the custody, the formal legal custody remains with the US while there is a Philippine content.”
Goldberg said the facility within Camp Aguinaldo where Pemberton is being held was not an extension of US territory.
“Our embassy might have certain viability because of our status, but that’s not the case for Camp Aguinaldo. It’s a Philippine facility,” Goldberg said.
He said Pemberton’s trial must be concluded within a year under the VFA. With Joyce Pangco Pañares, Rey E. Requejo and Macon Ramos-Araneta
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