FVR: PH has 'higher interest' than custody of US Marine
MANILA, Philippines (Updated) – Former President Fidel Ramos cautioned against "damaging" the country's relationship with the United States over the custody of Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton at a time when the country is facing a "bully," alluding to China and its activities in the West Philippine Sea (South China Sea).
"You know that issue, although it is serious for all of us, must not be the cause for the damage of Philippine-US relations because there are higher interests," Ramos said in a chance interview at the 79th anniversary celebration of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) inside Camp Aguinaldo on Thursday, December 18.
"I’m sorry for the families and I'm sorry also for the US side, but in this case it must be our higher interests – and the higher interests are Philippine interests – [that should prevail] because we are right on site. We are in the battlefield and we are the victims of bullying by, hindi ko na sasabihin.... Mabuhay ang Pilipinas (I won't mention anymore. Long live the Philippines)!" Ramos added.
The Philippines, through the Department of Foreign Affairs, has expressed its disappointment over the US rejection of its request to have custody over Pemberton, who is accused of murdering a transgender Filipina in Olongapo City.
Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the US has the right to keep the US Marine in custody while the judicial proceedings is ongong. Pemberton is now in a special detention area in Camp Aguinaldo, the main military camp. (READ: Arrest warrant out for US Marine over Laude slay and US denies PH request for custody over Marine)
Justice Secretary Leila De Lima has expressed the opinion that the Philippines should insist on getting custody of Pemberton.
At least two senators – Miriam Defensor Santiago and Francis Escudero – also have supported the position of Leftist groups that want the American soldier detained in an ordinary jail.
Getting custody of Pemberton and his transfer to a regular jail are two different issues. He is currently detained inside the military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, but custody remains with the US. This means all his movements must be approved by the US embassy. Only his fellow US Marines serving as his guards can approach Pemberton while the Filipino guards are only in charge of perimeter security.
Top defense officials and military officers have been gagged about the controversy over Pemberton's stay inside the military headquarters.
The military will take its cue from the Department of Foreign Affairs, said military spokesperson Colonel Restituto Padilla.
The Philippine military is in the process of shifting its focus from internal security to external security.
"In the middle of an evolving regional security architecture that is increasingly volatile and uncertain, it is imperative for the AFP to develop its territorial defense capability. It is important that we adjust our defense structures and synchronize our systems and processes in order to shape an armed forces capable of providing a credible defense posture," said AFP chief General Gregorio Catapang Jr.
The Philippines also has a new military-to-military agreement with the US, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation AgreementIt allows the US to construct facilities inside Philippine military bases and preposition defense assets in the country. But the constitutionality of the new deal is contested in the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the petitions next year. – Rappler.com