The trial of a U.S. Marine accused of killing a transgender Philippine national in October is under way, with some keeping a close eye on terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the United States and the Philippines.
The women’s rights group Gabriela said it was “closely monitoring” the trial of Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. The group wants a conviction of Pemberton, who is charged with murder for the death of Jennifer (formerly Jeffrey) Laude. Witnesses found Laude’s body in a hotel bathroom in Olongapo City in Subic Bay after they last saw Laude with Pemberton on October 11.
Gabriela Secretary General Joms Salvador said there were several pressures on the case. She said the Laude family should not be “sweet-talked” into a settlement and should seek a murder conviction.
Salvador said getting a conviction was just one step, but the real struggle would be and has been in the question of custody over the 19-year-old Pemberton.
“We hope that instead of trying to protect the interests of Pemberton as an American citizen covered by the Visiting Forces Agreement, both the Philippine and American governments would take the interests of justice for Jennifer Laude as a prime consideration,” she said.
Nationalist and rights advocacy groups have been vocal against a provision in the VFA saying the United States maintains custody of an American service person accused of a crime in the Philippines throughout the legal proceedings. The terms, however, say the Philippines has criminal jurisdiction over such cases.
Pemberton is in U.S. custody at a facility inside the Philippine military’s main headquarters in Metro Manila.
Salvador said a rape case 10 years ago that ended with the acquittal of a U.S. Marine was on people’s minds. Salvador said after the Marine was convicted by a lower court, he remained in U.S. custody until an appellate court acquitted him.
Attorney Francesca Lourdes Senga specializes in public international law and criminal procedure at San Beda College in Manila. She said that case remained within the perimeters of the VFA.
“The proceedings in [the period] between the trial court and the court of appeals [decisions] show that the case still continued, meaning there [was] no final finding of a conviction...So since there was no final conviction yet, he was still not subject to the full jurisdiction of the Philippines,” said Francesca.
Gabriela is one of several groups calling for the VFA to be done away with altogether. Salvador said having the agreement means part of the Philippine law that applies to murder charges was “already not being honored” by the U.S.