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US Says No to PH Custody of Pemberton

The United States on Wednesday turned down the Philippines’ request for the custody and transfer to a local jail of Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, the US Marine accused of murdering transgender Filipino woman Jennifer Laude.

The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) demanded that the US government transfer Pemberton’s custody to the Philippines while he is undergoing trial.

The request came about after the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court (RTC) issued a warrant for the arrest of the US serviceman, a day after he was charged with murder for the Oct. 12 slay of Laude in Olongapo City.

The US Embassy in Manila, however, denied the request. The embassy said in statement Wednesday that it had informed the DFA that the United States would “retain custody of Pemberton as provided by the US-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).”

“The VFA states that the United States has the right to retain custody of a suspect from the commission of the alleged offense until completion of all judicial proceedings,” the embassy said in a statement.

The embassy stressed that Pemberton was already detained at Camp Aguinaldo, “under guard of US military personnel, with perimeter security provided by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.”

Pemberton has been held at the Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) at the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo since the preliminary investigation of the case began in October.

Meanwhile, DFA spokesperson Charles Jose issued a statement expressing the agency’s disappointment over the denial of the custody request, “We are disappointed that the US has chosen to invoke their rights under the VFA to maintain custody of the accused,” the DFA said in a statement.

“We will continue to make the necessary representations in support of the judicial process. We will also remain vigilant in ensuring that the US continues to remain faithful to their obligations under the VFA, to ensure that justice is obtained,” the statement further said.