MANILA (Reuters) - Philippine President Benigno Aquino rejected on Monday calls to tear up the Visiting Forces Agreement with the United States after an American serviceman was charged with the murder of a transgender Filipino outside a former U.S Navy base.
U.S. Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton is accused of murdering Jeffrey Laude, who also goes by the name Jennifer, in Olongapo City, about 50 km (30 miles) north of Manila.
Pemberton is under the custody of his superiors aboard USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault ship docked in Subic Bay, a former U.S. Navy base next to Olongapo, northwest of Manila.
Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Philippines is supposed to exercise jurisdiction over such a crime. Some lawmakers and activists have called on the government to terminate the VFA unless the United States hands him over.
“Why do we need to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement?” Aquino told reporters while in the central island of Leyte to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the start of the U.S. liberation of the Philippines in World War Two.
“I mean, name me any place that doesn’t have a crime. And the sin of one person should be reflective of the entire country? I don’t think so. What is important is there was a crime, we should gather all evidence to prove the guilt and justice will be served.”
Olongapo prosecutors have summoned Pemberton and four other military personnel to appear on Tuesday as part of a preliminary investigation.
In Jakarta, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry assured the Philippines Washington was not seeking special treatment for the American marine but wanted his rights protected.
“We’re not seeking a special privilege, that everybody’s rights will be appropriately protected,” Kerry told reporters after meeting his Filipino counterpart, Albert del Rosario.
“Due process will play out, and we will work with the Philippines in order to make certain that rule of law and the agreement are upheld.”
Del Rosario described the incident as “unfortunate” and “tragic”.
“We do have all the mechanisms in place so that justice can properly be served,” he added.
A former colony of the United States, the Philippines is the oldest and closest security partner of Washington in the Asia-Pacific region.
The two sides in April signed a new 10-year security pact that allows for a larger U.S. military presence in the country as it struggles to raise its defense capabilities amid territorial disputes with China.
Aquino said the defense and foreign ministries were working with the U.S. Embassy in Manila to resolve the issue of Pemberton’s custody.
He said the embassy was “making sure, based on the treaty again, that he is available or the suspects are available for both investigation in any and all judicial processes”.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato in Manila; additional reporting by David Brunnstrom in Jakarta; editing by Andrew Roche