Murder complaint filed vs US Marine

Edu Punay - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines - As investigators piece together the circumstances that led to the death of transgender Jeffrey Laude, his family has filed a murder complaint with the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office against US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.

Laude’s family filed the complaint yesterday through lawyer Harry Roque.

Police, meanwhile, organized Special Investigation Task Group Laude to gather more evidence against Pemberton, who is in the custody of his superiors on the USS Peleliu docked in Subic Bay. The soldier is with the 2nd Battalion 9th Marines based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.

Roque told The STAR he and Laude’s family would seek the transfer of Pemberton to the custody of Philippine authorities. He said he accepted the case upon request of the victim’s mother Julita.

Roque was among the lawyers of the woman known as Nicole in the 2005 rape case, also in Subic, involving four US Marines led by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.

At Camp Olivas in Pampanga, Chief Superintendent Raul Petrasanta, Police Regional Office-3 director, said the Olongapo City Crime Laboratory, the Regional Investigation and Detective Management Division and the City Provincial Legal Service comprise the newly formed SITG.

Olongapo City police chief Senior Superintendent Pedrito delos Reyes heads the task group.

“After a thorough investigation of the SITG Laude and when all the findings are out, we will abide by the usual judicial proceedings as contained in the Visiting Forces Agreement to guarantee that justice will be served,” Petrasanta said.

He said the suspect was identified by witness Mark Clarence Gelviro from a photo lineup provided by the US Navy’s National Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).

Laude was found dead inside the toilet of a room in Celzone Lodge almost an hour after he and Pemberton checked in Saturday night. The two met at the nearby Ambyanz Disco bar earlier.

Olongapo City Mayor Rolen Paulino assured the family of Laude that there would be “no whitewash” of the case and that “justice would be served.”

“It could be an isolated case but we can assure everyone that we will exert all effort to bring justice on the death of Jennifer,” Paulino said in an interview.

Congress steps in

At the Senate, the committee on foreign relations said it is set to conduct an investigation into Laude’s murder on Wednesday next week.

Committee chairperson Miriam Santiago said that she would invite the staff of Celzone Lodge to shed light on the case, as well as some members of Laude’s family.

Santiago said no US authorities would be invited since they cannot be subpoenaed.

“I cannot subpoena. Under Senate traditions, we are not allowed to invite, much less to subpoena, foreigners to our hearings,” Santiago told reporters yesterday.

Santiago justified the conduct of the investigation, saying it would be in aid of legislation.

“Once the Senate acts on inquiries in aid of legislation and there is even no quibble whether there is actual legislation, it can be passed legislation, it can be contemplated legislation, it can be legislation for the future, it can be speculative legislation, but as long as it is an inquiry in aid of legislation, then I would have jurisdiction,” she said.

Santiago also renewed her call for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement, citing the problematic issue of jurisdiction and custody whenever cases involving US servicemen arise.

Santiago argued that custody should automatically be with the Philippine authorities once the suspect has been properly identified and charged.

“Because under the VFA, particularly the provision on jurisdiction, if a crime has been committed, number one: within Philippine territory, and number two: is declared to be a crime under Philippine law, automatically jurisdiction belongs to the Philippines,” she said.

However, she said that Article 5 paragraph 6 of the VFA provides that: “The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings.”

She noted that the VFA also contains another provision which states that, “in extraordinary cases, the Philippine government shall present its position to the United States government regarding custody, which the United States government shall take into full account.”

“The disparity is very clear. The Philippines has jurisdiction but, upon mere request by the US, our law enforcement is required to immediately turn over the custody of the American military personnel to the US,” Santiago said.

Officials of the Department of Foreign Affairs have indicated that Manila can always request custody of the suspect but that the US can reject such request.

But Santiago said the US should immediately turn over the soldier to the Philippine authorities now that he has already been identified as a suspect.

According to Santiago, the process of abrogation of the VFA is very simple as it merely involves notifying the US government about this decision.

“We ask the Americans for renegotiation, and if they refuse, give them notice. All you have to do to abrogate is give a one-year notice to the Americans,” Santiago said.

‘One death too many’

At the House of Representatives, Rep. Terry Ridon of party-list group Kabataan is asking his comrades to investigate Laude’s murder.

In Resolution No. 1568, Ridon asked the committee on foreign affairs and the committee on national defense to conduct a joint investigation on the matter.

“This is the second time that a US serviceman committed a criminal offense in the country. Nine years ago, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was charged and convicted for the rape of a Filipino woman. His custody remained with the United States of America during his trial, which exposed the lopsided nature of the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he said.

The complainant in the Smith case subsequently recanted her story.

“While Philippine authorities are already taking necessary steps to address the (Pemberton) case, Congress must conduct a parallel investigation to determine how this affects existing agreements between the US and the Philippines, especially the newly signed Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA),” Ridon said.

“The growing threat posed by the continued implementation of the VFA and MDT (Mutual Defense Treaty) and now the EDCA warrants a full-blown congressional inquiry,” he said.

“One death is one too many. Congress must again open the debates on the abrogation of the VFA and the junking of the EDCA,” he said.

“Congress must also exhaust its powers to guarantee a just investigation and an unprejudiced trial to exact justice for Jennifer Laude,” he said. Jess Diaz, Ric Sapnu, Bebot Sison Jr., Jaime Laude

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