Friday, October 24, 2014

US marine accused of murder in Philippines moved to Manila base

In a move meant to ease tensions over who should have custody of Pfc. Joseph Pemberton accused of murdering a transgender filipino, the US transferred him to the main Philippine military camp in Manila.

The Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines allows for the prosecution of US service personnel in Philippine courts unlike some countries such as Afghanistan where the agreement grants immunity from prosecution in Afghan courts. However, the agreement also allows for US custody of the accused "from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings". In 2009 the Philippine Supreme Court ruled that any sentence must be served in Philippine detention. Although many Filipinos are grateful for the US role in liberating the Philippines from Japanese occupation, they also want to protect their sovereignty after a long history of colonial rule by Spain, Japan, and the United States.
There have been protests at the US embassy in Manila, and at the wharf in Subic Bay where Pemberton had been kept in custody aboard the USS Peleliu. The protesters demanded that Pemberton be handed over to Philippine authorities. The Philippine president Benigno Aquino III defended the agreement. US Secretary of State John Kerry said the US sought no special privileges for Pemberton only the protection of his rights.
 The US and the Philippines agreed to the transfer of Pemberton to an air-conditioned van where he will be guarded directly by US marines. Philippine guards will be stationed outside the compound according to Philippine military chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang. Voltaire Gazmin Philippine Secretary of Defense told AP: "They agreed to put him in a facility which will pass U.S. custodial standards. We're happy with this because he's a suspect in a crime that was committed in our country."
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario described what seems clearly a murder as tragic, and noted that there was strong cooperation between the two allies. In an earlier case, another US marine, Daniel Smith, was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison for raping a filipina in 2005. Although a Philippine court ordered him to be turned over to Philippine custody, he was kept in US custody. Eventually on appeal and a change in the testimony of the alleged victim, his conviction was overturned in 2009.
 Laude was a transgender woman who met Pemberton at a bar in Olongapo City near Subic Bay where his ship was anchored. Pemberton went with Laude and another transgender friend to a motel room. Laude urged the friend to leave before Pemberton found out that they were transgenders. The police claim Laude was apparently drowned in the toilet bowl.
 The Philippines closed down US bases some time ago including the base in Subic Bay but US troops regularly come to the Philippines on a rotating basis. Recently the two countries agreed to increase the number of troops involved. The Philippines is anxious to have US support for its claims to some islands in the South China Sea that are claimed also by China and other countries. That new agreement is being challenged in the Philippine Supreme Court and may not be signed for years yet.
  President Aquino said of the transfer of Pemberton to Camp Aquinaldo in Manila: “I think that’s a very healthy development. Previously, in the Daniel Smith case, he was in the U.S. Embassy not in our facility....Now, he [Mr. Pemberton] is in our camp. I think they are responding to our needs and our sensitivities.” Aquino said that there was no need to cancel the 1999 VFA agreement as some activists and politicians have been urging. Ramon Casiple, a political analyst said the "key question" was the Philippines exercising jurisdiction over the case which was obtianed by having Pemberton in the Philippine military camp. No doubt many activists will reply that the key question is jurisdiction. Not only did the Philippines allow the US to force them to find accomodation that was according to US standards but they also insist that it is US marines that directly guard Pemberton. In effect he remains in US custody: The U.S. Marine Corps issued a statement saying that Mr. Pemberton remains in U.S. custody and will stay “in the Philippines during the investigation and any potential judicial proceedings’’ under the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
 This is mostly political games. The USS Peleliu where Pemberton was being held is not based in the Philippines and was there only for military exercises early this month. The ship can now leave the Philippines since Pemberton is being held elsewhere. Several witnesses gave written testimony and also have left the Philippines.The transfer off the ship is much more convenient for the US than keeping the ship docked in the Philippines. Moving Pemberton to a Philippine military base while retaining custody is designed to dampen down protests at the US military presence in the Philippines. However, Pemberton cannot expect to be spirited out of the Philippines out of reach of the courts as was a CIA operative Raymond Davis in Pakistan who shot two Pakistanis.

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