OLONGAPO CITY (Updated) -- Police have identified the US Marine suspect in the killing of a transgender woman inside a lodge in this city on Saturday.
The suspect, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, a US Marine from the Second Battalion assigned at West Pacific Express and onboard the amphibious assault ship Peleliu presently docked in Subic Bay Freeport, is set to face murder charges.
Chief Superintendent Raul Petrasanta, Police Regional Office-Central Luzon director, told Sun.Star Pampanga that the Olongapo City Police will file the charges against Pemberton by Wednesday.
“The Olongapo City Police headed by Senior Superintendent Pedrito Delos Reyes are now preparing the charges against Pemberton which will be filed before the Olongapo City Court by Wednesday once the documents are completed,” Petrasanta said.
Pemberton is tagged in the murder of Jeffrey Laude, also known as "Jennifer," 26, from Barangay West Bajac Bajac, this city.
Laude was found dead by a lodge attendant around 11 p.m. Saturday in room number one of Cellzone Lodge in Magsaysay drive.
The attendant said that he was about to clean the room, thinking Laude and the foreigner already checked out, when he saw the lifeless victim inside the bathroom.
He described the suspect as a Caucasian with a marine cut. Local authorities here have been puzzled as to why the suspect killed the victim.
Olongapo City Mayor Rolen Paulino was saddened by the news. "It’s too bad that this incident happened, but we cannot dictate anything. We will get to the bottom of this and I have already instructed the local police to pursue the case," Paulino said.
Liberty for the US servicemen has been cancelled and all of them have been recalled back to the ship. The Olongapo City police have started coordinating with the Law Enforcement Department of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority to allow them to board the American ships docked inside the Subic Bay Freeport to investigate the case.
US embassy vows full cooperation
The United States Embassy in Manila vowed on Monday to fully cooperate with the full investigation of Laude’s killing.
In a statement, the US Embassy said it will not take steps against an encompassing probe on the alleged involvement of a US Marine in the crime.
"A US Marine has been identified as a possible suspect in the ongoing investigation. The United States will continue to fully cooperate with Philippine law enforcement authorities in every aspect of the investigation," said the US Embassy.
The US Embassy also said it condoles with the family of Laude over their loss. "The United States Embassy in Manila expresses its deepest condolences to the family and friends of Jeffrey Laude."
Pass anti-discrimination bill
Meanwhile, a group of transgender people called Monday for the swift passage of the anti-discrimination bill after the murder of Laude.
"It is already time for the government to make a move to protect and secure their rights for they are human too," said Dindi Tan, a member of the board of trustees of the Association of Trans-Gender People (ATP).
"Dumadami na ng dumadami ang ganitong kaso na pinapatay ang mga katulad namin na miyembro ng third sex kagaya ng mga bakla at tomboy at wala man lang batas na nagpo-protekta sa amin," she said.
Tan said it was not the first time this kind of killing to a transgender happened in the country.
"We are still checking kung pang ilang insidente na ito ng pagpatay sa mga katulad namin (transgender) but I am sure this is not the first time and mostly sa reports sa amin ang kauna-unahang dahilan ay dahil sa galit at hatred na hindi natin madistinguish kung saan nagmumula," Tan said.
She said the group hopes that the incident will serve as a wake-up call to the lawmakers to pass a law for the sake of the transgenders.
Turnover of suspect sought
Militant students slammed the US military on Tuesday for apparently hiding its serviceman accused of killing Laude.
Carrying placards calling for justice for the slain Laude, some 50 members of the League of Filipino Students (LFS) asked the US military to put Pemberton under custody of Philippine authorities while undergoing investigation.
"Hiding the savage criminal and refusing to tell his identity equates to playing deaf on the family’s holler for justice. This is a preposterous cover-up for the US military's motive to get away from the crime," said LFS spokesperson Charlotte Velasco.
LFS feared that the US will use the alleged disadvantageous provisions in the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) to allow the marine to escape detention and prosecution.
Under the 15-year-old VFA, Philippine authorities have jurisdiction over US personnel with respect to offenses committed within the Philippines and punishable under the law of the Philippines.
However, Article V Section 6 of the VFA also states that "the custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request."
This was applied in the case of convicted rapist Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who was whisked away from Makati jail to US Embassy in December 2006 while he was appealing the local court's decision.
Smith left the country in 2009 after he was acquitted by the Court of Appeals for raping Suzette "Nicole" Nicolas in Subic in 2005.
Nicolas later on recanted her testimony and is now living in the US.
"As the VFA is an executive agreement on part of the US, I believe it is in the power of the US president to waive custody of the suspect in favor of the Philippines," said Kabataan Representative Terry Ridon.
Justice Undersecretary Jose Justiniano, who was Smith's lawyer, allayed fears that the soldier might escape trial as the US government is required by the VFA to present him before any legal proceedings.
This obligation, however, is lifted a year after the crime was committed, pushing Justiniano to call for a speedy resolution of the case.
Smith allegedly raped Nicolas on November 1, 2005. He was convicted by a Makati court in December 2006. (Anthony Bayarong and Ric Sapnu of Sun.Star Pampanga/Third Anne Peralta, Virgil B. Lopez, HDT/Sunnex)