-- Protest streamers are displayed during the march to the Heritage Garden in Olongapo City. (MNS photo)

— Protest streamers are displayed during the march to the Heritage Garden in Olongapo City. (MNS photo)

MANILA (Mabuhay) – Amid calls for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) maintained that the accord has served the “national interest” of the country.

“I think the VFA has served the national interest [of the Philippines]. It doesn’t follow that VFA killed Jennifer Laude,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said.

Jose said that if not because of the VFA, the country would not have criminal jurisdiction over US Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, the suspect in the brutal killing of transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.

Laude was found lifeless inside the bathroom of a motel in Olongapo City on October 11.

“If there is no VFA, he (Pemberton) might have a total immunity. But because of the VFA, we are able to investigate him,” he said, adding that the Philippine government has Pemeberton’s criminal jurisdiction.

According to Jose, Pemberton, who is now detained at the joint Philippine-American facility in Camp Aguinaldo, could not leave the country while the investigation is ongoing.

Although Pemberton has failed to appear and submit a statement at his preliminary investigation set on October 21 and 27, Jose said his lawyer’s appearance in court was an indication that they were willing to be subjected to an investigation.

In Congress, Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago and Akbayan Representative Walden Bello have filed a joint resolution seeking the abrogation of the 15-year-old VFA.

Jose, however, said that the Supreme Court has ruled in three separate cases that the VFA is constitutional.

Malacañang has also insisted that it is against the termination of the VFA saying the treaty allows the country to address not only “political tensions, potential military conflicts, issues about territories but also even in terms of humanitarian assistance and the ability to be able to respond to changes being brought about by global climate change.” (MNS)