US Marine will face Philippine court for killing transgendered woman

US Marine will face Philippine court for killing transgendered woman
The US Marine accused of killing a transgender Filipino woman in that country will face trial for her death, but prosecutors have not decided on a charge yet. The defense team did not respond to the government’s preliminary probe.

Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton failed to answer a murder complaint filed by police on Monday, the deadline set by prosecutors, leaving it to the prosecution to determine what charge he faces. His lawyer, Rowena Garcia-Flores, did not file a counter-affidavit in the case, instead filing three separate motions for clarification of the murder complaint, declaration of the absence of probable cause for murder or another crime and the reduction of charges to homicide, the Philippine Star reported. Garcia-Flores said that any planned murder charge should be reduced to homicide, or killing without intent.

"You have waived your rights to file a counter-affidavit. You have not presented any evidence on your behalf," Olongapo City Prosecutor Emelie Fe De Los Santos told Flores during the televised proceedings on Tuesday afternoon. "We will base our resolution on the evidence that we've gathered. We should respect the process."

"We will rule on probable cause after we complete the process. Don't teach us what to do," she added. "The bottom line is we will go on with the preliminary investigation," she said.

Pemberton, 19, is accused of killing Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old Filipino, in a motel room October 11 in Olongapo city, northwest of Manila Bay. Laude was apparently left strangled and drowned next to a toilet bowl. The Marine was initially been held on a US Navy warship at the Subic Bay Freeport, northwest of Manila, but on Wednesday Pemberton was transferred to the Philippine military's main camp, where Filipino troops and two of his fellow Marines continue to guard him, the Associated Press reported.

Pemberton met Laude and Mark Clarence Gelviro on the evening of the 11th, Gelviro said in a statement a Philippine Senate hearing Wednesday, according to Time. The Marine was visiting for a joint military exercise involving 4,000 American soldiers and sailors. Gelviro claimed to the hearing that Pemberton was drunk but friendly, and that he “thought we were real women.”

The three went to a nearby motel room, but Gelviro left. The witness testified that, a little while later, the motel cashier notified her that Pemberton had left and that Laude was unconscious in the room, her head submerged in the toilet bowl.

Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, who chaired the hearing, told the Philippine Star she considered the evidence against the suspect “damning.”

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which the two countries signed in 1998, the Philippines can prosecute American troops accused of crimes there. But the accord grants the US custody over those troops "from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings."

Philippine Bureau of Immigration named both Pemberton and Laude’s fiance, German national Marc Sueselbeck, undesirable aliens on Sunday.

German Marc Susselbeck (3rd L), boyfriend of murdered Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude, also known as "Jeffrey," and Jennifer's sister Marilou (2nd L) climb over the gate of the facility where Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton is detained at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) headquarters in Manila on October 22, 2014. (AFP Photo / Noel Celis)

Sueselbeck and Laude’s sister, Marilou, climbed a fence and entered a restricted area at Camp Aguinaldo, the country’s Armed Forces headquarters, on Wednesday, demanding to see Pemberton. Sueselbeck shoved a military policeman, while Marilou argued with soldiers, according to Inquirer.net. The two said they only wanted to catch a glimpse of Laude’s suspected killer and to make certain he was inside his prison cell.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) asked for the fiance to be deported, but when Sueselbeck attempted to leave Sunday night, he was stopped at the airport because of the “undesirable alien” tag. The German then fainted and was taken to a hospital for treatment, the Daily Mail reported.

“While deportation is supposed to be a summary procedure, we are giving him due process," Justice Secretary Leila de Limatold reporters Monday. "If we allowed him to just leave, we would not be able to determine if he is really an undesirable alien or not."

Also over the weekend, Philippine President Benigno Aquino III apologized for not attending Laude’s funeral, saying he did not intend to insult the victim’s family, the International Business Times reported.

"In general, I don't attend wakes of people I don't know... I'm uncomfortable in trying to condole with people who don't know me,” he explained to ABS-CBN. "How can I say that I really sympathize with their loss and have some relevant discussion with them on trying to assuage their loss at that point in time?"

Aquino is under pressure to renegotiate the US-Philippine VFA, and the Pemberton case has increased the calls to end the 16-year-old treaty.

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

Bello filed a joint resolution in the lower house of Congress on Monday, seeking to terminate the treaty because it "has not served the interests of the Philippines."

The US and the Philippines have been attempting to forge stronger ties which is attributed by many to the ongoing territorial disputes several Asian countris have with China. A greater level of US military access was granted in April after the signing of a fresh accord.