US envoy: VFA makes Laude probe 'quick, successful'
MANILA, Philippines – US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg defended the controversial Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) on Thursday, October 23, by claiming it helps in investigating an American serviceman's alleged involvement in a transgender Filipino's death.
In a rare sit-down interview, Goldberg also criticized the “media circuses” surrounding the death of transgender woman Jennifer Laude, whom US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton allegedly murdered.
“The VFA is what allowed this investigation to be as quick and successful, because our criminal investigators participated with the PNP to identify a suspect, to be able to identify witnesses, to cooperate and collaborate, because we're friends and allies,” Goldberg told GMA News in a live interview on Thursday.
The US Naval Criminal Investigative Service earlier coordinated with the Philippine National Police (PNP) in identifying Pemberton as suspect in Laude's case.
Goldberg cited this as a benefit of the VFA after Pemberton on Wednesday, October 22, was moved to the Philippine military headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo, while remaining in the US' legal custody.
The US' exercise of custody over Pemberton has sparked criticism of the VFA, a 1998 agreement that, among other things, formalizes military exercises between the US and its former colony. (READ: Why PH must assert sole custody over US Marine)
Leading a Senate investigation into Laude's death, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago rejected the VFA as a failure.”
'VFA helped Yolanda survivors'
The US ambassador, however, said Filipinos should understand “that the VFA has a purpose.”
Goldberg said the VFA, for one, “is what allowed” the US to deploy troops to Leyte, which was hit by Super Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan), “so quickly” in 2013. “Other countries had to wait a couple of weeks while they negotiated these kinds of arrangements,” he said.
Back then, the USS George Washington and other ships brought more than 335,000 liters of water and 36,360 kilos of food and supplies to help in post-Yolanda relief efforts.
The US Embassy in Manila stressed this in a separate statement, as the USS George Washington arrived on Thursday for a routine port call to stress ties “the historic and military connections” between the Philippines and the US.
Goldberg also mentioned the joint exercises between Filipino and American troops, and US aid as the Philippines “builds what it calls a minimum credible defense.”
These forms of assistance come as the Philippines, as well as other Southeast Asian countries, faces an increasingly aggressive China in the South China Sea.
“These are all part of our relationship as allies, as friends, and the VFA is a central part of that relationship, and it's a central part of making sure that justice is served, and that's why we have it,” Goldberg said.
'Disappointing' move by Laude's fiancé
The focus for now, Goldberg stressed, should be the call for justice and not “theatrics.”
He criticized “intruders” – Laude's sister and fiancé – who climbed the gates of Camp Aguinaldo to protest against the “special treatment” for Pemberton. (Watch more in the video below.)
“I think what happened yesterday at Camp Aguinaldo, where intruders actually came into an Armed Forces of the Philippines military base, were able to enter, were able to get into a restricted area, is quite disappointing, quite frankly,” the ambassador said.
“We should all be focused on making sure that the rule of law is followed, and to make sure that justice is served – justice for the family, justice for Jennifer Laude. We ought to have that as our goal – not media circuses and the kinds of things and acts that took place yesterday,” he added.
Protestors, on the other hand, claim that US custody of Pemberton is itself an injustice.
Facing these criticisms, Goldberg asserted that Pemberton “is under US custody.”
When asked if the US will turn him over to the Philippines if an arrest warrant is issued, Goldberg replied, “We'll follow the Visiting Forces Agreement.”
Pressed for a categorical answer, Goldberg stood his ground: “We'll follow the VFA that... the suspect is under US custody.” – Rappler.com