President Rodrigo Roa Duterte has commended UniTeam senatorial aspirant Harry Roque for seeking justice for disadvantaged and marginalized Filipinos like murdered transgender Jennifer Laude.
Duterte asked Roque to reconfigure the criminal jurisdiction over foreign soldiers that commit offenses on Philippine soil under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
If elected to the Senate, Roque said he would look into the provision concerning non-service-related crimes committed by American soldiers.
In 2014, US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton killed Laude in Olongapo City. As legal counsel to the Laude family, Roque secured a homicide conviction against the American serviceman in 2015.
The Olongapo City Trial Court sentenced Pemberton to a 12-year maximum prison term. The court reduced it to 10 years based on an appeal. After serving his sentence for over five years, Pemberton received a presidential pardon in 2020.
But Roque pointed out that Pemberton was never remanded to Philippine police custody during the court trial. He cited a VFA clause that allows the US to get custody of personnel arrested for a non-service-related offense pending their conviction.
Roque said such an arrangement contradicts the country’s VFAs with Australia and Japan. The Philippines has automatic custody of any Australian or Japanese personnel found violating domestic laws while not on official duty.
“In terms of criminal jurisdiction, our military agreement with the US should follow our VFAs with Japan and Australia. Otherwise, we will have a hard time prosecuting foreign soldiers who commit heinous crimes in our country,” he said.
Roque recommended that the custody of visiting military personnel charged with a crime in the Philippines should be with Filipino authorities.
“Our experience with the Laude case shows that, while our defense treaties with the US are in effect, the Philippines is still treated as a colony of America,” Roque said.
The former presidential spokesman noted that only American military personnel has this special treatment in the country.
Roque also said an American disclosed that Pemberton would shuttle back and forth to the Philippines while the case was on trial.
“If a Filipino soldier commits the same offense while on official duty in US territory, I think American authorities would automatically demand absolute custody of the Filipino suspect,” Roque said.
Both the Philippines and the US signed a VFA in 1998, which reaffirmed their obligations under the Mutual Defense Treaty.
Source: Philippines News Agency