US, Philippines to work out deal on Pemberton custody
Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - November 26, 2015 - 9:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The United States will work out an arrangement with the Philippines on the custody of Joseph Scott Pemberton in case the Marine lance corporal is found guilty of murdering Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in October last year.

This was according to US Ambassador Philip Goldberg, who said the court is expected to hand down a decision on Dec. 1.

“We will work out arrangements that are appropriate for all sides and in accordance with the VFA (Visiting Forces Agreement). So people need not worry or be concerned because we will work together cooperatively and that is what we have done up to now,” Goldberg said in an interview on GMA 7’s “State of the Nation” Wednesday night.

“I anticipate that whatever road ahead there is – and I’m not going to prejudge the verdict in the case because that is in the hands of the court – we will work collaboratively together,” he said.

At a hearing on Laude’s murder at the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 in August, Pemberton admitted strangling and killing the Filipino after learning he was a male.

Pemberton is detained in a refurbished shipping container at the Joint US Military Advisory Group compound at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

Shortly after the court issued an arrest order for Pemberton in December last year, Goldberg made clear the soldier would be kept in US custody.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) did not push for Philippine custody of Pemberton, saying the US justification for refusing to turn him over to local authorities was “not inconsistent” with the provisions of the VFA.

The US State Department said the “US is retaining the suspect until completion of all judicial proceedings” in accordance with the VFA.

No lobbying

In the same interview, Goldberg also said the US is not lobbying for a favorable Supreme Court (SC) ruling on a petition seeking the junking of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) with the Philippines.

“We don’t lobby. The Supreme Court is an independent branch of government,” Goldberg said.

He emphasized that EDCA is a good agreement that allows the Philippines and the US to improve minimum credible defense, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations.

“It is not a question of intervention. It is a question of working together,” he said.

The high tribunal deferred issuing a ruling last week on questions regarding the constitutionality of the EDCA.

Justices tackled the case in session but decided to reset their deliberations and voting to next month.

It was the second time the SC deferred ruling on the case.

“The Supreme Court is very independent. They will make their decision as they should under any democratic system, which has a separation of power, on the basis of constitutional issues, on the basis of legal issues because the SC is the interpretive body for legal issues, so you don’t lobby in the Supreme Court. We don’t do that in the US. We don’t do it here,” Goldberg stressed.

Washington is pushing for the implementation of the EDCA, saying “it is not tied to the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) issue but to the country’s capability to develop minimum credible defense.”

The Philippines is set to receive a “high amount” of foreign military funding in 2016 after receiving $79 million in bilateral assistance from the US this year.

US President Barack Obama has promised that a big part of the $140 million in foreign military funding in the region in 2016 would go to the Philippines.

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