Getting away with murder: Before Jennifer Laude, US visiting troops face 10 cases

Rodrigo Duterte’s absolute pardon to US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton for killing Jennifer Laude in 2014 is only the latest in the string of injustices suffered by Filipinos in the past 22 years in the hands of US visiting troops under the Visiting Forces Agreement. The crimes they have committed against Filipinos have gone unpunished.

Prior to Laude’s murder, at least ten cases against American soldiers who were in the country courtesy of the VFA, have been reported. Most of the perpetrators remain free and those apprehended did not stay a single night in a Filipino cell.

“The VFA gives US military personnel extraordinary rights while in the Philippines which by default exempts them from coverage of local laws,” said Marco Valbuena, public information officer of the CPP. Prior to Pemberton’s pardon, another US soldier, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was convicted for the rape of a Filipina in Subic, Zambales in 2005. Despite being ordered imprisoned in Makati City Jail, US personnel whisked him to the US embassy in Manila. There was nothing local police officers could do. He remained under US custody until they could arrange for the withdrawal of charges.

“The lack of justice in the Laude killing demonstrates in no uncertain terms why the US-Philippine VFA of 1998 violates Philippine sovereignty and why it must be abrogated,” added Valbuena.

There were at least four cases of shooting involving American soldiers in 2008. These included a massacre of eight individuals in Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu in February in the same year. Among the victims were two children and a pregnant woman.

In 2000, a grenade exploded after US Navy Seals gave a secret training to their Philippine Navy counterparts in Toledo, Cebu. Two boys were killed and another was wounded.

In 2002, a farmer in Tuburan, Basilan was shot by an American soldier participating in combat operations. Indiscriminate shellings and firing also injured residents in Zamboanga City and Indanan, Sulu in 2004 and 2006, respectively. There was no record that the Philippine government filed cases against the perpertrators. The VFA is explicit in prohibiting the trial of American soldiers in the sharia’h courts.

In 2010, Filipino translator Gregan Cardeño was killed inside a facility of the US Joint Special Operation Task Force in Marawi City. US military officials covered up the crime, declaring it a suicide, despite the victim’s body bearing signs of torture and sexual abuse.

The VFA-protected US servicemen are exempted from laws and regulations regarding passports and visa, driver’s license and vehicle registration. These privileges grant them unchecked arrogance on Philippine roads. Locals have been known to complain of abuses by US soldiers as reported in 2007 in Zamboanga City, when, despite being on the wrong for hitting a passenger vehicle, the Americans brandished their weapons and threatened the riders. In March 2000, three US soldiers were reported for mauling a taxi driver.

US soldiers also displayed arrogance and disrespect when they ordered the closure of Panamao District Hospital in Sulu for a month in December 2007. They threatened to shoot anyone who defied the order.

Getting away with murder: Before Jennifer Laude, US visiting troops face 10 cases