Pemberton transfer to Bilibid sought after VFA termination

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Joseph Scott Pemberton, the US Marine convicted of killing transgender Jennifer Laude, should be transferred to the New BIlibid Prison following the termination of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement with the foreign state, Atty. Harry Roque says. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, February 12)— Joseph Scott Pemberton, the US Marine convicted of killing transgender Jennifer Laude, should be transferred to the New BIlibid Prison following the termination of the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement with the foreign state, a lawyer said Tuesday.

“I hope after the six month period, and the VFA has finally been terminated, that he will be finally moved to Muntinlupa where he belongs — together with the Ampatuans and other killers,” Atty. Harry Roque, who has served as the legal counsel of the Laude family, told CNN Philippines’ The Source on Wednesday.

Pemberton was sentenced to six to 12 years in prison after he was found guilty in the 2014 murder. Laude was found lifeless — neck blackened with strangulation marks and head rammed into a toilet — in an Olongapo City motel room after a night out with Pemberton in October of that year.

READ: Revisiting the Jennifer Laude murder case

The American soldier has been detained at the custodial center in Camp Aguinaldo, Quezon City— an area Roque labeled as a “golden cage”— pursuant to provisions of the 1998 military deal.

But with the notice of termination on the table, Roque said Pemberton’s move to the state penitentiary should now be pursued.

“The only reason why he's being kept in that golden cage is because of the VFA. Without the VFA, he should be treated like all other prisoners, convicted felons, and sent to Muntinlupa,” Roque added.

In previous conversations with reporters, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Pemberton should remain in custody of a local court, as the Philippines already acquired jurisdiction over him. Panelo said this will not be affected by the possible termination of the VFA.

After repeated calls from the chief executive, the Philippine government on Tuesday finally sent the United States its notice to terminate the two-decade military pact. Expiration of the agreement, however, will come 180 days from the formal notification.

READ: US Defense Chief says ending VFA a 'wrong' move amid China aggression

VFA termination ‘not a loss’ to PH

Despite warnings that the move may result to cuts in international financial assistance, Roque maintained the VFA would not be a huge loss for the country.

“We did argue that it was unconstitutional because Americans did not bother to treat it as a treaty without Senate concurrence,” the former Palace spokesperson said.

The VFA is the first of two agreements between Washington and Manila about the treatment of their troops when they are in the US or the Philippines.

Among the provisions of the deal include lax visa and passport policies for US troops, and rights of US government to retain jurisdiction over military personnel, among others.

Addressing issues on the formality of the termination, Roque said there’s no need for Senate approval—as the VFA is only an implementing agreement to a treaty.

“Since it is not a treaty, then it does not require Senate concurrence. The confusion here is just because the Philippine Senate gave its concurrence to the VFA does not make it a treaty,” he said.