From the Philippine Star (Oct 16): News Analysis: Case against American serviceman new irritant in Phl-US relations
The alleged killing by an American serviceman of Filipino transgender Jeffry Laude has triggered a new wave of anti-American rhetoric in the Philippines and calls for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The incident also strengthened the arguments raised by militant groups against the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) that Manila and Washington signed in April.
EDCA, whose legality is being questioned in the country's Supreme Court, would allow access by US forces to Philippine military facilities.
On Wednesday, a murder complaint was formally filed against US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton for Laude's death. The case was filed at the Prosecutor' Office in Olongapo City in the province of Zambales, some 150 km north of Manila.
Pemberton is reportedly now in the custody of his superiors on the USS Peleliu docked in Subic Bay in Olongapo City. Pemberton was part of the 3,500-member US contingent taking part in amphibious drills with Filipino counterparts that ended Friday.
The exercises were held in several areas of the Philippines, including training sites near Olongapo from September 29 to October 10.
Laude was found dead inside the toilet of a room in Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City almost an hour after he and Pemberton checked in on Saturday night. The two met at a nearby disco bar.
Police said the suspect was identified by witnesses from a photo line-up provided by the US Navy's National Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS).
Senator Miriam Defensor-Santiago, chairman of the Senate foreign relations committee, has initiated a senate probe into the murder incident. She also called for the immediate abrogation of the VFA because of its lopsided provision on custody of errant US personnel.
"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 side can reject such request.
Santiago said the United States should immediately turn over the soldier to the Philippine authorities now that he has already been identified as a suspect.
Santiago argued that custody should automatically be with the Philippine authorities since the suspect has been properly identified and charged.
The VFA is a Philippine-American pact that lays down terms covering the conduct of American forces while in the Philippines.
Section 1 (a) of the pact's Article V, which lays down provisions on criminal jurisdiction, grants the Philippines " jurisdiction over United States personnel with respect to offenses committed within the Philippines and punishable under the law of the Philippines ... "
But Section 6 of the same article states that custody will remain with US authorities "if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings."
At the House of Representatives, Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan (Youth) Party has also called for a congressional investigation of Laude's murder.
"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.
The recent incident involving Pemberton is similar to the rape case filed in 2005 by a Filipino woman identified only as "Nicole" against US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith and three others.
Smith was not detained during the trial process, but was briefly held at the Makati City jail after being found guilty on Dec. 4, 2006. Through manoeuvring by then US Ambassador to the Philippines Kristie Kenney, Smith was whisked to the US Embassy late at night on Dec. 29, 2006 and held there while his conviction was on appeal.
Smith was never returned to Philippine custody as he was eventually acquitted in April 2009, after the woman recanted her accusations. He was immediately flown back to the Unite States.
Renato Reyes, secretary general of the militant Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (New Nationalist Alliance), warned that more cases involving visiting American servicemen might happen with the implementation of EDCA.
"EDCA will definitely multiply such cases since US troops will be allowed to base in our country. Their permanent presence will make our countrymen more vulnerable to abuse," Reyes said.
The alliance, along with other civil society groups, has accused Philippine President Benigno Aquino III of committing culpable violation of the Constitution and betrayal of public trust in pushing for EDCA. They said the agreement violates the country's sovereignty and territorial integrity.
The Commission will approach its work by considering the culture of the people, multiple narratives of history and ensuring inclusivity among the different stakeholders, TJRC chairperson Mo Bleeker said during the Commission's Manila launch this Saturday, Oct. 11 at the Shangri-la Hotel. Last Oct. 4, the TJRC was officially introduced to the public in Cotabato City.
Joining Bleeker in the TJRC are its members, Atty. Cecilia Jimenez (as GPH representative) and Atty. Ishak Mastura (as MILF representative) as well as Jonathan Sisson who serves as senior adviser. The commission’s work is part of the normalization process specified in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Bangsamoro (CAB).
GPH panel chair Miriam Coronel-Ferrer said that TJRC’s greatest contribution could be in pointing out how the country can effectively have sustainable justice and reconciliation in healing the internal conflict in the south. “The work of the TJRC and its outcome must set off a process that does not control, formalize, bureaucratize nor narrow down the avenues, but rather generates, in addition to the state’s, people-driven initiatives to do transitional justice and reconciliation.”
Saying that “justice is political and it is also personal,” Coronel-Ferrer underscored that “our efforts must produce the needed state policies and institutions that would be responsive. It must make us more human, with faith and trust in the humanity that is in each one of us, knowing that this is what will unite us whoever we are, whatever identity we self-ascribe to or are other-ascribed. It must produce a norm-change, change the hate to love, convert the distrust to trust, ensconce the sense of personal and collective accountability and strengthen the desire to build peace.”
MILF peace panel chair and Bangsamoro Transition Commission (BTC) chair Mohagher Iqbal, in his message during the launch of TJRC, said that “achieving accountability (of human rights violators), achieving justice and restoration (after conflict) is a tedious process for all.” However, he said that other paradigms have to be examined, beyond judicial approach or courts, to realize the goal of healing wounds of conflict towards reconciliation, to not repeat the state-sponsored human rights violations in the past, and lead to the “eventual vanishing of discrimination.”
Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process Teresita Quintos Deles, also present at the TJRC launch, said that as a people, “we sometimes have a tendency to say ‘Huwag nang ungkatin pa and natapos na’ (‘Don’t try to dig up the past’). That’s why we tend to repeat historical injustices and tragedies. I am so glad that we are deliberately doing this now to ensure that the wrongdoings in the past… will not be repeated.”
Deles also underscored that while rights of victims are important, it is also crucial to provide space for the right to forgive and right to embrace one’s enemy.
Also present at the TJRC Manila launch were members of the diplomatic community including Swiss deputy chief of mission Raoul Imbach (who represented Swiss Ambassador Ivo Sieber), UK Ambassador Asif Ahmed, Brunei Ambassador Malai Halimah Yussof; GPH panel members Senen Bacani and National Commission on Muslim Filipinos chair Yasmin Busran-Lao; BTC Commissioners; Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao-Regional Human Rights Commission head Algamar Latiph; international non-governmental organizations, Mindanao historian Prof. Rudy Rodil, among others.