PH wants custody of US Marine in Olongapo slay

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines will seek custody of the US marine tagged as a suspect in the slay of a Filipino transgender woman in Olongapo City.

In a press conference on Tuesday, October 14, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Assistant Secretary Charles Jose said the country has the option to request for the custody of the suspect but “it’s not guaranteed that [the United States] will grant it.”

“[The US has] primary custody and we will request them to give [the suspect] over to us. We will request and it’s not guaranteed that [the US] will grant it so they may continue to have custody,” said Jose. 

The suspect has since been identified by the Philippine National Police (PNP) as Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. Pemberton is suspected to have killed 26-year-old Jennifer Laude on October 11 at a lodging house in Olongapo City.

He is in US custody but the jurisdiction of the case remains with the Philippines. 

“We would like to maintain jurisdiction of the case,” emphasized Jose.

As of October 14, the PNP is readying “a case of murder” against the suspect, who was identified after coordinating with the United States Naval Criminal Investigative Service.

Pemberton was also positively identified by a witness from a photo line-up. Criminal charges have yet to be filed against the US Marine.

DFA Secretary Albert del Rosario earlier said that although “in the normal course of events, the US would have custody” of the suspect, they also need to produce him for court hearings.

In the case of heinous crimes, however, “we could ask them to waive custody, so I suppose it will go in that direction,” said del Rosario.

The departure of two US warships that took part in the recently completed Amphibious Landing Exercise have since been put on hold pending the investigation of the case.

In a separate Tuesday press conference, Armed Forces of the Philippines chief of staff General Gregorio Pio Catapang Jr said they hope “[the US] will surrender the suspect involved.” The PNP chief said the slay case would not affect relations between the US and the Philippines.

Custody over Pemberton is a worry to many Filipinos. In 2006, a Philippine court sentenced US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to 40 years in jail for raping a Filipina a year earlier. (READ: EDCA, Olongapo murder, and the old case of Daniel Smith)

Smith was turned over to the US Embassy while his case was pending before a Makati City court, and stayed in US custody even after his conviction.

Article V, Paragraph 6 of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allowed the return of US troops to the Philippines, states: “The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with the United States military authorities, if they so request.”

The Philippines and the US are in the middle of discussions on an expanded agreement that allows US military presence in the country. 

'Murder case won't guarantee PH custody'

A Department of Justice (DOJ) official who was among the defense lawyers in the controversial rape case involving Daniel Smith said the government can request  custody of the US marine tagged in the murder of Laude but the nature of the case itself cannot guarantee it.

On whether the murder case presents a more compelling case for a Philippine government request for custody of the suspect, Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano said the VFA has no provision on this particular aspect.

Wala kasing distinction dito (VFA). Nag-iiba lang kapag national security ang involved halimbawa treason, sabotage at espionage. Pagka ganoon ang crime at ang offended party ay ang Philippine government, sa atin 'yun at 'pag US government ang offended party, sa kanila 'yun. 'Yung mga rape at murder wala naman sinabi dito basta any acts under Philippine laws,” he said.

(There is no distinction here. It’s different only if national security is concerned, for example, treason, sabotage, and espionage. If that is the crime and the offended party is the Philippine government, we have [custody]; if the US government is the offended party, they have [custody]. Rape and murder are not specified; just acts under Philippines laws.)

He also said what is important is that the US government produce the suspect to attend trials, as had been the case in 2005, when 4 US Marines – Lance Corporals Daniel Smith, Keith Silkwood and Dominic Duplantis, and Staff Sergeant Chad Carpentier – were charged for the rape of Suzette Nicolas in Subic, Zambales.

The US retained custody of the 4 for the duration of the trial, and even while Smith appealed his conviction. The Court of Appeals later acquitted Smith and was brought out of the country by US authorities. – Bea Cupin/Rappler.com