Protesters storm US Embassy over Laude slay
MANILA, Philippines–“US troops out now” yelled young men and women as they protested on Tuesday at the US Embassy in Manila the killing of a transgender Filipino, Jeffrey Laude, known as Jennifer, allegedly by a US Marine in Olongapo City.
Waving red flags, the protesters ended the rally with the burning of a mock American flag. Riot police stopped them from getting close to the heavily fortified embassy.
Two protest leaders tearfully demanded that the US military hand over the Marine, identified as Joseph Scott Pemberton, to the Philippine government, adding that he should be detained in a local jail.
“This is just so abominable. It’s one of the worst hate crimes I’ve seen,” said Corky Hope Maranan, a leader of a group of transgender, gay and lesbian Filipinos.
“If he remains in US custody, certainly he can escape from our justice system again. We don’t want another ‘Daniel Smith,’” Maranan said.
She was referring to the 2005 case of Smith who was accused of raping a Filipino woman in Subic. He was convicted by a lower court and sentenced to 40 years but an appeals court reversed the verdict after the woman recanted her statement. The Philippines had sought custody of Smith but this was not granted by the United States.
US harboring criminal
In keeping custody of a suspect, the United States is “harboring” a criminal, said Gabriela Women’s Alliance chair emerita Liza Maza.
“It looks like the US is harboring the criminal. Just like before,” Maza told the Inquirer when reached by phone.
When Pemberton faced investigators from the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) on Monday night, he told them that he did “something wrong,” Olongapo Mayor Rolen Paulino said on Tuesday.
“The suspect did not directly say that he was the one who killed the victim, but he told NCIS that he did something wrong,” Paulino said.
Chief Insp. Gil Arizo Domingo, chief investigator of the Olongapo City Police Station 3, said witnesses identified the suspect when his photograph, along with three other US servicemen, was shown to them.
Domingo said the witnesses included a friend of Laude, who was with him when they met the foreigner at Ambyanz Disco Bar on Magsaysay Drive in Olongapo City on Saturday night, and a room attendant of the Celzone Lodge, where the victim was found dead.
Fight for custody
The Philippine government will fight for custody of the US Marine suspected in the killing of Laude as this is an “extraordinary case,” said Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) Commission Executive Director Eduardo Oban Jr.
Oban and Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said the DFA would file for custody once charges were filed against US Marine Private First Class Pemberton.
But Oban and Jose acknowledged that the United States could reject the Philippine request for custody of Pemberton as provided by the VFA, the agreement governing the conduct of Filipino and American military personnel participating in joint military exercises between the two countries.
Still, Oban said the government would coordinate with the United States in the case of Laude whose body was discovered in a hotel in Olongapo City last Sunday after he had checked in with an unidentified blonde male.
“We hope that (the case of US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith) won’t happen again. We’ll make sure every step of the way we’re in close coordination,” Oban told reporters.
Justice for Laude
Malacañang said that it wanted justice for Laude and that the government was fully committed in ensuring that the rights of every Filipino were protected.
“It is important for our government that this crime will be solved and justice is attained for the slain Filipino citizen,” said Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr.
Coloma also said that President Aquino was “seriously” monitoring the investigation into Laude’s killing.
“He wants government to do what should be done. This is what the Visiting Forces Agreement Commission (VFACom) is doing,” Coloma said.
A Catholic bishop urged the government to pursue the case against the US Marine.
“The Visiting Forces Agreement and Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement are not licenses for Americans to commit crimes in the Philippines,” said Sorsogon Bishop Arturo Bastes.
Without identifying Pemberton, the US Embassy in Manila said the US Marine, assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was being held on the USS Peleliu while a joint NCIS and Philippine National Police investigation was being conducted.
“The US will continue to fully cooperate with Philippine law enforcement authorities in every aspect of the investigation,” the US Embassy said in a statement posted on its website.
Speaking to reporters, Oban said the government was seeing “full cooperation” from the US government from the start of the commission of the crime.
“They instituted a lock down and they really assisted us in the investigation, most particularly the NCIS,” he said, when asked if there was any difference in the way the Philippines was now dealing with the US compared with the Smith case. In a lock down, all US military personnel are restricted to quarters, he said.
Some 4,000 US Marines and Navy sailors concluded two weeks of military exercises with Filipino counterparts Friday and were to leave the Philippines this week.
Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said he was assured by US Pacific commander Adm. Samuel Locklear, who was in Manila for security talks with Philippine defense officials, that the Peleliu and other Navy ships would stay in the Philippines pending an investigation of the killing.
In a separate briefing, Jose said the DFA would pursue the custody of Pemberton through a note verbale to the United States, citing Article 5 paragraph 6 of the VFA.
“The custody of any US personnel of whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with US military authorities if they so request from the commission of the offense until completion of the judicial proceedings.
“US military authorities shall upon formal notification by Philippine authorities and without delay make such personnel available to those authorities in time for any investigative or judicial proceedings relating to the offence with which the person has been charged,” Jose said, reading the VFA provision on criminal jurisdiction.
He said that custody of Pemberton would automatically be with the United States unless the Philippines requests it to waive custody.
Jose said that the Philippines had “stronger reasons” to request custody “considering that the person died and for various other implications if we don’t get custody.”
“But there is no guarantee that they will grant (our request for custody),” Jose said.
He said that should the United States not grant the Philippine request for custody, “we should not begrudge them because principally it’s a provision in the VFA where custody actually resides on their side.”
“If we don’t get (custody), we shouldn’t feel bad. Because we have criminal jurisdiction and we can try him. The most important thing is if he will be convicted, he will serve here in the Philippines. Custody is only temporary during the judicial proceedings, so look at the bigger picture,” Jose said.
Under the VFA, the Philippines has jurisdiction over the Pemberton case and that means he would be tried under Philippine laws and Philippine courts, he said.
Should the US Marine be convicted, Ona said Pemberton under the VFA would be detained in a facility agreed by both sides.
Sen. Francis Escudero joined calls to amend the VFA following the killing.
Escudero cited what he described as the “lopsided” criminal jurisdiction provision of the VFA supposedly favoring Washington.
In the House of Representatives, the Makabayan bloc is seeking a congressional probe on the murder of Laude and is demanding that the Philippine government take custody of the suspect.
Elmer Maniego, chief of investigation of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in Central Luzon, said his office would coordinate with the victim’s family and other agencies for a parallel investigation.
Maniego said the CHR would also offer legal assistance to the victim’s relatives.
Marilou Laude, a sister of the victim, said her brother was with their sister, Michelle, and several friends in the bar an hour before he was killed.
She said a group of US servicemen was also in the bar at that time.
“The [soldiers] were sitting behind the table of my brother and his group. They seemed to be the same US Marines that we saw in the (closed circuit television) CCTV footage that the police obtained from the disco bar,” she said.
She said she did not notice that Laude left the bar. “I was shocked to find out an hour later that he was found dead in a hotel near the bar,” she said.
Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gregorio Catapang said the killing would not affect the military relations between the Philippines and the United States.
“We regret that this thing happened and we want to assure everybody that we are supporting whatever investigation that will be conducted, and this will not affect our relationship with the United States,” Catapang said.–With reports from Nikko Dizon, Tina G. Santos, Julie Aurelio, Cynthia D. Balana, Christian V. Esguerra, Gil C. Cabacungan, Tarra Quismundo and AP
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