Murder complaint filed vs US Marine
OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines—A murder complaint was filed here on Wednesday against an American soldier who was last seen with Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude before the transgender Filipino was found dead in a motel last Saturday night.
The filing of the complaint against Pvt. 1st Class Joseph Scott Pemberton of the US Marine Corps is expected to speed up his transfer to the custody of Philippine authorities, as required under the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the governments of the Philippines and the United States.
Accompanied by three police officers and lawyer Harry Roque, Marilou Laude, the victim’s sister, filed the complaint in the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office at 4:50 p.m.
Julita Laude, the victim’s mother, said the family would pursue the case and make sure Pemberton would go to prison in the Philippines.
Prosecutors now have to decide if there is sufficient evidence to try Pemberton, a process that can take weeks.
If tried and convicted, Pemberton could face life in jail.
“I think we have sufficient evidence to sustain the charge of murder,” Roque said in an interview on television.
Pemberton is being held on board the USS Peleliu at Subic Bay Freeport, where a number of other US warships are being held following the killing of Laude.
About 3,000 US Marines and Navy sailors concluded two weeks of military exercises with Filipino counterparts on Friday and were to leave the Philippines this week.
Dozens of activists in Manila and Los Angeles, California, on Tuesday demanded the handover of Pemberton to Philippine authorities, saying Laude was the victim of a “hate crime.”
Laude, 26, was found dead, apparently strangled and drowned, beside a toilet bowl in a motel room in Olongapo City shortly after she and Pemberton were seen checking in late last Saturday.
Police said they had identified Pemberton with the help of a key witness.
Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago said on Wednesday her committee on foreign relations would open an inquiry into the killing of Laude as she called anew for the abrogation of the VFA, whose provisions, according to her, tended to favor visiting American soldiers.
Santiago said the inquiry would begin next Wednesday. Police investigators, motel staff and relatives of Laude would be invited to the hearing, she said.
It is clear under the VFA that the Philippines has jurisdiction over the case because it happened within its territory, and the crime is punishable by Philippine laws, Santiago said.
“Automatically, jurisdiction belongs to the Philippines,” she said.
“I will insist that under the terms of the VFA itself, properly negotiated between the two parties involved, automatically we acquire jurisdiction. If they have him they should turn him over to the [National Bureau of Investigation]. And detention should be in our own [jail],” she added.
The VFA has a provision that the US military has custody of its personnel from the commission of crime till the completion of proceedings, if it so requests, Santiago said.
In contrast, if the Philippines presents its position on custody, the US government would take this into “full account,” she said.
Santiago said she did not know what “full account” meant.
“Our problem is if the US makes a request to transfer jurisdiction to the US. Because the VFA language is very lax. It’s supine,” she said.
“Again, here we’re always on the wrong side of the law, and for me this is an opportunity to [renew] my call: abrogate the VFA,” Santiago said. “Ask the Americans for renegotiation, and if they refuse give them notice. All you have to do to abrogate is give a one-year notice to the Americans.”
Santiago urged the NBI to expedite its investigation of Laude’s killing so the government could acquire custody of Pemberton.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Wednesday it had conveyed to the US government its expectation of “full cooperation” in the investigation of Laude’s killing.
If the US government does not fully cooperate, “we would expect repercussions,” said a DFA official, who requested not to be identified due to the sensitivity of the issue.
“Repercussions” could mean public pressure on the government for the abrogation of the VFA and the scuttling of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), the legality of which has been challenged in the Supreme Court.
Militants demanded that the government terminate the VFA if the United States refuses to hand over Pemberton to Philippine authorities.
Joms Salvador, secretary general of the women’s group Gabriela, said the government should scrap the VFA, as it did not benefit the country.
Salvador said the killing of Laude, has been labeled by Gabriela a “hate crime” and would affect Edca.
The group, however, did not say how.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) said the government should not allow itself to be “pushed around” by the United States and instead insist on the turnover of Pemberton.
“Any refusal by the United States government to turn over Private Pemberton to Philippine authorities should be considered a ground for terminating the VFA,” said Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr.
But the military said the killing of Laude was an “isolated case” and should not affect military agreements between the Philippines and the United States.
Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, chief of the Armed Forces of the Philippines Public Affairs Office, said thousands of US soldiers took part in joint exercises with Filipino troops, but only one was involved in Laude’s killing.
“Why should we burn down the whole house [when only one man made a mistake]?” Cabunoc said.
He said it was not right for the militants to demand the abrogation of the VFA, as the agreement was being followed “faithfully” by both the Philippines and the United States.
Told that this is the second case since the rape of a Filipino woman in Subic Bay Freeport in 2005, Cabunoc said bad things happen all the time.
“We cannot be in a perfect story,” he said.
Cry for justice in LA
The call for justice over the killing of Laude also rose in Los Angeles on Tuesday, with Filipino-American transgender activists demanding the turnover of Pemberton to Philippine authorities.
The activists called for a thorough investigation of the case and asked the Philippine government to take immediate action and press charges against Pemberton.
“We are outraged by the killing of Jennifer Laude” Jenab-i Pareja, Bayan Queer Caucus organizer, said in a statement. “We demand to assert the country’s laws and have the suspect face the Philippine court.”
Rally in New York
Bayan Queer Caucus, Gabriela New York, BaranGay New York and TransJustice of Audre Lorde Project have scheduled a rally on Oct. 19 in front of the Philippine Consulate in New York to demand justice for Laude.
Among those scheduled to speak at the planned rally in New York City are GenderProud founder Geena Rocero, Miss LGBT Philippines-USA Chelle Lhuillier and Fr. Noel Bordador, according to the statement.–With reports from TJ Burgonio, Christine O. Avendaño, Cynthia D. Balana and DJ Yap in Manila; Nimfa U. Rueda in Los Angeles; and AFP
Originally posted at 6:05 pm | Wednesday, October 15, 2014
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