Rule of law must be upheld – Kerry
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - October 22, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The United States is not seeking any special privilege in its defense arrangement with the Philippines, and is letting the rule of law decide the fate of military personnel and citizens involved in infractions, US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday.

Kerry made the assurance before meeting with Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario in Jakarta.

The two, as well as other officials and ministers, were in the Indonesian capital for the inauguration of newly elected President Joko Widodo.

“The people of the Philippines who are gracious enough to permit an arrangement whereby we meet mutual interests with this kind of a force’s presence need to know that we’re not seeking a special privilege, that everybody’s rights will be appropriately protected,” Kerry said. “And that’s exactly what we will do here.”

Kerry said it is important that the rule of law is upheld and the rights of Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton are protected.

Pemberton is facing murder charges for the killing of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude last Oct.11 in Olongapo City.

The killing sparked renewed calls for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement between Manila and Washington. Critics of the VFA claimed that the defense arrangement was strongly biased for the US.

While the Philippine government under the VFA has jurisdiction over cases involving American soldiers, the US can take custody of them.

“With respect to the Marine, whatever charges there are, whatever infractions have been affected by any American anywhere, we believe in the rule of law, and we believe in our agreement. It is very important for our agreements to be upheld,” Kerry said.

“We will, indeed, uphold our agreements with our friends in the Philippines; they deserve nothing less,” the US official stressed.

“Due process will play out, and we will work with the Philippines in order to make certain that rule of law and the agreement are upheld,” he said.

While in Jakarta, Kerry was also set to meet with other Asian leaders.

For his part, Del Rosario said the killing of Laude was distressing but gave assurance “we do have all the mechanisms in place so that justice can properly be served.”

“We are concerned, and it’s unfortunate that we had this tragic event,” he added.

Pemberton was a no-show yesterday at the preliminary investigation into the death of the 26-year-old Laude.

The four US Marines summoned by the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office to stand as witnesses in the killing have quietly left the country. The US gave assurance they would be made available during the trial.

The DFA said it was not notified of the group’s departure by US authorities.

The US embassy in Manila said on Sunday that the prosecutors had already obtained sworn statements from the four Marines in accordance with Philippine laws and with the “make available” clause in the VFA.

DEL ROSARIO FOREIGN AFFAIRS SECRETARY ALBERT MANILA AND WASHINGTON OLONGAPO CITY OLONGAPO CITY PROSECUTOR PEMBERTON PRESIDENT JOKO WIDODO PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JOSEPH SCOTT PEMBERTON SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY UNITED STATES
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