MANILA, Philippines – Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr joined calls for the US military to surrender to Philippine authorities the US Marines serviceman accused of killing Filipino transgender Jeffrey Laude.
"Wala namang organization na hindi nagkakamali (No organization is perfect). But this one is quite a big mistake. The US Pacific Command will have to look into this very seriously. They are looking into it very seriously," Catapang said Tuesday afternoon, October 14.
"Hopefully they will surrender the identified soldier that is allegedly involved in that incident," Catapang added.
The police identified the US serviceman to be Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. He is currently being held inside the US assault ship USS Peleliu, one of two US ships that brought into the country about 3,000 US sailors and Marines for the recently completed Philippine-US Amphibious Exercises (PHIBLEX).
The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) allows the US, upon request, to take custody of an erring US officer. But the Philippines has also expressed its intent to take Pemberton into its custody.
Catapang faced the media after a meeting with US Pacific Command chief Admiral Samuel Locklear III, who is in the country for the regular Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB). It is the body that approves joint activities and exercises between the two militaries.
Catapang is confident that the US military will cooperate with the investigation.
Another Daniel Smith?
The incident recalls the decade-old rape case against US Marines Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, the first case under the VFA, that prompted debates over the supposed lopsideness of the treaty in favor of the US. (READ: EDCA, Olongapo murder, and the old case of Daniel Smith)
Like Smith, Pemberton was on a furlough after participating in joint exercises with the Philippine military
The murder of Laude in Olongapo City, allegedly by Pemberton over the weekend, cast a shadow over the talks on Tuesday.
"Kami po ay nababahala at nasasaktan. Kapwa Pilipino natin ang naging biktima. (We are alarmed and hurt. Our fellow Filipino was a victim.) At the end of the day, we have to protect his rights. We have to fight for his rights. We have to give justice to his untimely death," Catapang told reporters.
'It won't affect PH-US relations'
Locklear himself expressed his regrets, said Catapang.
"Personally he wants to express his regrets of what really happened. It was an unfortunate incident. He said he symphathized with the family and he wants a full investigation to be conducted by the NCIS together with the Philippine National Police.
Locklear earlier ordered the grounding of the USS Peleliu and USS Germantown pending the investigation.
Catapang also assured that the murder case will not affect relationship between the two militaries.
"This will not affect our relationship with the US inasmuch as the committed offense was not during the PHIBLEX exercises but during an admin break," said Catapang. – Rappler.com