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15 Dec, 2014 12:04

​US marine accused of killing Filipino transgender will face murder charge

​US marine accused of killing Filipino transgender will face murder charge

A US marine accused of killing a Filipino transgender woman will face a murder charge. The crime is putting the local government under pressure to review its security cooperation agreement with the US, amid growing regional tensions with China.

The prosecution has ruled there was “probable cause” that Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton killed Jennifer Laude (formerly known as Jeffrey) in a motel room in Olongapo city, northwest of the capital Manila. The victim was apparently drowned in a toilet bowl.

Prosecutor Emily de los Santos called it “murder” and ruled that no bail will be available to the 19-year-old marine. "It was aggravated by treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty,” she also said.

Joseph Scott Pemberton (Photo from facebook.com)

The case has reignited the debate on American war crimes perpetrated on Filipino territory. Philippines President Benigno Aquino III is under pressure to renegotiate the US-Philippines VFA [Visiting Forces Agreement], and the Pemberton case has led to increased calls to end the 16-year-old treaty.

"The VFA allows the US military to act in wanton disregard for Philippines sovereignty... and violates the human rights and dignity of the Filipino people," said Congressman Walden Bello of the Akbayan Party, an ally of the president, according to Reuters.

The Americans have moved to compromise with the local government by moving Pemberton from their warship to the Filipino armed forces main camp in Manila, where he remains in American custody, with a security perimeter set up by Filipino military personnel.

READ MORE: Philippine fury at US Marine’s hate crime against transgender Filipino

The accused has been hidden from sight and de los Santos said he must appear in person for the arraignment. She also suggested the victim’s loved ones should attend the proceedings, since they doubted Pemberton was still on Filipino territory.

Lawyer to Laude’s family has agreed with the ruling, adding an additional request that the marine be jailed in an ordinary Filipino prison. The prosecution is expecting an arrest warrant and Pemberton to be transferred to prison within the week. "We look forward to the full cooperation of the US government in ensuring that justice is secured," Charles Jose, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Activists participate in a protest to seek justice for a Filipino transgender Jeffrey Laude, who also goes by the name Jennifer, outside a justice hall where a preliminary investigation was held at Olongapo city, north of Manila October 27, 2014. (Reuters/Lorgina Minguito)

The case comes on the heels of a new agreement between the US and the Philippines, under which America gets to have an increased presence in the host’s military camps. This is thought of as an important step toward Washington’s consolidation of power in Asia. It also served Manila’s interests in the South China Sea, where it and other regional players have been locked in bitter territorial disputes with the formidable Chinese military.

Now the cooperation is facing strain: shortly after Pemberton’s arrest, nine US warships canceled visits to Filipino ports in October and November. Tensions are also visible on the ground, with anti-US protests opposing military cooperation between the two countries, which view their hospitality to the Americans as being abused.