US to produce slay suspect
The United States said on Saturday it would comply with a Philippine prosecutor’s order to produce a US Marine who is a suspect in the murder of a 26-year-old transgender Filipino and four other Marines wanted as witnesses in the investigation.
The prosecutor ordered the five US Marines to give depositions at a formal hearing on Tuesday after police named one of them as a suspect in the Oct. 11 hotel killing in Olongapo City.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) has taken custody of a key witness, alias “Barbie,” in the Laude murder, and is evaluating his application to join the Witness Protection Program (WPP), Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said Saturday afternoon.
Lawyer Harry Roque, who represents the Laude family, asked the DOJ to admit his “star witness” and two other witnesses under government protection. He withheld the names of the witnesses.
“Barbie is the most important. She’s the star witness because she was the one who last saw Jennifer alive with [Pvt. 1st Class Joseph Scott] Pemberton. She accompanied them to the lodge (where Laude was later found dead),” Roque said in a phone interview.
“Barbie” was the one who identified Pemberton as the man who left an Olongapo City bar with Laude, sometime before she was found dead at a lodging house.
Police said they found the victim half-naked on the bathroom floor of a room with more than a dozen bruises, cuts and bite marks. They said the victim, who had checked in with the suspect just over an hour earlier, had died from “asphyxia by drowning.”
The two other witnesses also identified Pemberton, Roque earlier said.
Roque said it was crucial to place the witnesses under the WPP, as they might already be trailed by US agents, saying he himself had this experience while in Olongapo earlier this week.
US to ensure justice
“The United States will continue to assist in the investigation to help ensure justice is served,” US embassy spokesperson Anna Richey said in an e-mailed response to Agence France-Presse’s requests for comment.
“This will include making the suspect, witnesses and any evidence gathered available to the Philippine authorities,” she said.
Richey said the suspect—which police and the prosecutor have identified as Pemberton—was being held on board the USS Peleliu pending an investigation into the death of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, described by local police as a transgender sex worker.
The four other US Marines sought by prosecutors were described by the Department of Foreign Affairs as witnesses.
Pemberton, attached to a North Carolina-based unit, had just taken part in joint military exercises in the Philippines and was said to be on “rest and recreation.”
Following the hearings, which could take days or weeks, the prosecutor can either bring criminal charges or drop the case. If Pemberton is charged with murder and convicted, he could face life in prison.
The family and supporters of Laude on Saturday stormed the Subic Bay Freeport gate to make a symbolic serving of the murder complaint against the suspect in the killing of their daughter.
A copy of the complaint against Pemberton was sent on Friday afternoon to the US Embassy in Manila.
But Laude’s mother, Julita, her sister, Marilou, and one of their lawyers, Virgie Suarez, led 70 supporters to the Alava Pier gate here to serve the complaint to the USS Peleliu where Pemberton is being held.
The USS Peleliu is docked at the Subic port. The US Pacific Command earlier ordered the warship to remain at a port near Olongapo while the murder investigation was ongoing. The US Embassy has vowed that the ship would not leave pending the investigation into Laude’s killing.
The protesters described their action as a symbolic gesture signifying that “notice has been served to Pemberton and that they will get justice.”
But the protesters were unable to get to the US warship as personnel from the law enforcement department of the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) had wound barbed wire around the gate.
As soon as the protesters arrived at 3 p.m., Suarez sought out any security personnel who could receive the copy of the murder complaint. No employee was willing to receive the complaint.
Yelling through the gate, Laude’s mother said in Filipino: “Don’t hide. Face us!” She turned to her friends and said: “What he (Pemberton) did to my child was unforgivable. We cannot forgive him.”
“I marched here so Pemberton would hear all of us. We came seeking justice for what he had committed. I want to know why he did that to my child,” she said.
“I want Pemberton to know I personally brought him a copy of this murder complaint. Let the justice system deal with what he had done,” she said.
The protest took 30 minutes and was concluded when Suarez announced, “The notice is duly served to Pemberton.”
Malacañang said it could “understand” the grief of the family of Jennifer Laude but stressed that processes should be followed to secure justice for her.
Deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said that calls for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and seeking justice for Laude were two different issues that should be addressed separately.
“There are many considerations when you talk about the review of a particular agreement that we have with another sovereign country,” deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte said over government-run Radyo ng Bayan.
“As far as the investigation on Jennifer’s death is going, there is a process that we have to follow, and we have to follow it to the letter to make sure that there [are] no technical aspects that are being forgotten,” she said.
It would be a “disservice to Jennifer” if the processes are followed “haphazardly,” she said.
Debates over the VFA and US custody of erring US servicemen have been raised anew with the Laude case.
The Laude family and their lawyers fear that Pemberton might be spirited away by the US government and evade jail time.
Under the VFA, the Philippines has jurisdiction but the US has custody of the US servicemen suspected of committing a crime on Philippine soil.
However, the Philippines can make a manifestation seeking custody of the suspect.
The killing has stirred anti-US sentiments and sparked protests and demands for Pemberton to be handed over into the custody of the Philippines.
The Philippine government has said that the politically charged case should not be allowed to derail longstanding defense ties between Manila and Washington.
The killing occurred after the Philippines reached an agreement in March to allow its US military ally wider temporary access to Filipino military facilities.
US forces vacated large US military bases in the Philippines in 1992 as nationalist sentiment rose.
But the Philippines has sought closer defense ties in recent years in a bid to modernize its Armed Forces amid tense maritime disputes with China. AFP with Tarra Quismundo and Nikko Dizon in Metro Manila, and Allan Macatuno, Inquirer Central Luzon
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