MANILA, Philippines–The Philippine government on Tuesday night demanded custody of Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton after serving an Olongapo City court warrant for the US Marine’s arrest on a murder charge in connection with the killing of Filipino transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.
Assistant Secretary Charles Jose of the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said two letters had been sent to US Embassy officials through the DFA’s American Affairs Office—one transmitting the arrest order against Pemberton and the other requesting his custody.
“We expect them to reply as soon as possible,” Jose told the Inquirer.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario confirmed that the letters had been sent to the embassy.
Olongapo Judge Roline Ginez Jabalde of the Regional Trial Court Branch 74 ordered the arrest of Pemberton on Tuesday afternoon, a day after the murder complaint was filed against him by a panel of prosecutors. Copies of the warrant were sent to the DFA, Philippine National Police, Armed Forces of the Philippines and National Bureau of Investigation.
But a court official declined to answer queries on where Pemberton would be detained, saying the judge would decide once the American serviceman is arrested.
Should the court order his detention in the Olongapo city jail, Pemberton will have to share a cell with about 50 inmates, according to the jail warden.
US Embassy won’t confirm
Reached by the Inquirer on Tuesday night, Kurt Hoyer, US Embassy spokesman, would not confirm if his office had received the arrest order and the DFA letter demanding custody of Pemberton.
A statement issued by the embassy earlier in the day reminded that under the US-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the United States “has a right to retain custody of a suspect from the commission of the alleged offense until the completion of all judicial proceedings.”
“The United States will continue to work closely with the Philippine government to help ensure justice is served and the rights of all persons are protected,” it said. It also reiterated its “deepest condolences to the family and friends of the deceased.”
Hoyer said the United States “intends to abide by the VFA, which stipulates that custody of a suspect remains with the US throughout the judicial process.”
“Justice is best served through the rule of law, which in cases involving US service members, includes the VFA,” he said in a statement.
Pemberton is currently being held inside a 20-foot container, under heavy guard by American and Filipino soldiers, inside AFP general headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City. US authorities transferred Pemberton from the USS Peleliu, which was docked at the Subic Freeport, to Camp Aguinaldo on Oct. 22 and are holding him in custody.
Still in US custody
The American technically remains in US territory while being held within Camp Aguinaldo, and Philippine authorities would have to go through diplomatic channels to effect his arrest, according to Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano.
“Of course, it’s Camp Aguinaldo, but the container is technically US territory,” Justiniano said.
The official spoke from his experience as one of the private counsels for US Marines tried in the Philippines for rape in 2006. The Marines were eventually cleared, including the primary suspect, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, who was initially convicted but later acquitted on appeal.
“It’s just like how a Filipino police officer can’t just enter the US Embassy and serve a warrant. There has to be coordination with the DFA and, in turn, the DFA coordinates with the US Embassy,” Jose said when reached by phone to comment on Tuesday.
The PNP will wait for further instructions from higher-ups regarding the serving of the arrest warrant, according to its spokesman, Chief Supt. Wilben Mayor.
“This kind of situation calls for decisions from the higher-ups. There will be coordination between the Philippine and the US governments. We will wait for whatever procedure is agreed upon between the two governments,” Mayor said on Tuesday.
Likewise, the AFP is awaiting the go-signal from the Philippine and US governments to move out Pemberton from his detention, said Col. Restituto Padilla, the military spokesman.
“The accused cannot leave the premises unless the Philippine government and the US government say so,” Padilla said. “Whatever we are told to perform, we will readily comply, if he is asked to be placed in another facility and we are asked for our assistance, we will readily extend that.”
Olongapo’s jail warden, Chief Insp. Jerome Verbo, described the holding facility here as well-secured but congested with over 700 inmates, more than double its intended capacity.
“We are ready for Pemberton’s possible detention here if the court will issue an order but he will join other regular inmates in a very crowded cell,” Verbo told the Inquirer by telephone on Tuesday,
The jail is well-guarded with 42 security personnel taking turns manning the premises, he said.
“We are aware that Pemberton is a US Marine and if his concern is his safety here, we can assure him that the jail is tightly secured,” Verbo said.
Other foreigners, among them Australians and Koreans, are detained in regular cells and are not given special treatment, he added.
Chief City Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos on Monday said the prosecution had a “strong case” against Pemberton based on the testimonies of witnesses and evidence gathered from the crime scene.
Laude and a foreigner, whom witnesses later identified as Pemberton, had checked into Celzone Lodge on Magsaysay Drive on the night of Oct. 11. Laude was found dead by a motel employee after the foreigner left the room.
In the resolution released after a two-month preliminary investigation, the prosecutors said treachery was apparent because evidence showed Pemberton “choked Jennifer from behind.”
“Obviously, in that position, Jennifer was deprived of the opportunity to defend herself,” the resolution said.
“Although death has forever sealed Jennifer’s lips, the abrasions, bruises and contusions found on her body tell us how greatly she suffered in the hands of her attacker,” it said.
It said Pemberton “purposely used excessive force in killing Jennifer.”
“He (Pemberton) is a US Marines serviceman, who is far stronger than Jennifer, as evidenced by the fact that he single-handedly choked her with his arm …. Jennifer was beaten black and blue,” the resolution said.
Acts of cruelty
Cruelty was one of the qualifying circumstances in the murder charge, the resolution said, citing a detailed enumeration of Laude’s injuries in the forensic report.
“There were blood clots found on her scalp, her upper lip was cut and bruised, there were abrasions and contusions on her arms and legs,” it said.
Quoting prosecutors, lawyer Harry Roque, the lead counsel of the Laudes, on Monday said the element of treachery had been evident in Laude’s killing, describing it as mabangis (ferocious).
“Laude was drowned, her neck was broken, she was beaten up, and there were bite marks,” he said.
“Custody is the fruit of jurisdiction,” Roque said, arguing that getting the American government to release Pemberton to Philippine authority was what he had been fighting for.
“The big question is will Pemberton be detained? Will he be presented before our courts?” Roque said.
Malacañang on Tuesday said it did not want to preempt the judge handling the Laude case when it comes to the custody of Pemberton.
“As a form of respect to the judicial processes, it is better not to preempt the court’s decision,” Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr. said.
He was asked if the Palace would ensure that the controversy over the custody of Smith, who was charged with raping a Filipino woman in 2005, would not happen again.
The US Embassy immediately took custody of Smith and his coaccused while they were being tried for the rape of the woman identified in media only as “Nicole.” The custody was a result of an agreement hammered between the embassy and the DFA.
SC avoided agreement
The Supreme Court eventually voided the agreement, signed by then Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and then US Ambassador Kristie Kenney, saying it was not in accord with the VFA.
While Smith was convicted, his victim later recanted her allegations and the US Marine was released and whisked back to America.
On the filing of the murder complaint against the US Marine, Coloma said it showed that the “processes toward upholding justice” was moving.
“The government will continue to do everything it must to ensure that justice will prevail,” he added.
Once the trial starts, reporters will not be allowed inside Judge Jabalde’s sala, Clerk of Court Gerry Gruspe said, but he assured them that they would be briefed about the proceedings after each hearing.
“We’re trying to prevent chaos inside the court but there will be a systematic relay of necessary details of the hearing to members of the media,” he said.–With reports from Tarra Quismundo, Nikko Dizon, Cynthia D. Balana and Julie M. Aurelio in Manila
Originally posted at 11:09 pm | Tuesday, December 16, 2014
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