The Philippine military said a U.S. Marine suspected of killing a transgender man has been transferred to its main headquarters.
The issue of custody of the accused has stirred memories of a 2005 visiting U.S. military rape case that brought a storm of protests.
The Armed Forces of the Philippines said Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton was being held at Camp Aguinaldo, under U.S. custody. Officials said Philippine troops were providing additional security.
Under the visiting forces agreement between the two countries, the United States has custody of the accused until the end of the case, while the Philippines holds jurisdiction over the case.
Left-wing and nationalist groups have called for Philippine custody of Pemberton, saying he is receiving special treatment.
President Benigno Aquino said Wednesday Pemberton was being treated like any other Filipino would be treated if accused of the same crime.
“We submit he is not being treated with kid gloves and the Americans, may I reiterate, are conforming to the treaty wherein they have to make this person and others available for both the investigative and judicial processes that are forthcoming,” Aquino said.
Authorities have not issued an arrest warrant for Pemberton as Philippine officials continue their initial investigation.
Police and witnesses said they last saw Jeffrey Laude, also known as Jennifer, with Pemberton hours before his body was found in a hotel bathroom in Olongopo City.
The city is adjacent to Subic Bay where Pemberton had taken part in joint military exercises.
Pemberton had been held on a U.S. ship until he was transferred Wednesday to the Aguinaldo facility.
Visiting troops agreement
Earlier this year, the two countries signed a new agreement to have more American troops visit and for the prepositioning of U.S. military hardware at Philippine installations.
Political analyst Ramon Casiple said the public could develop a negative association with the pact, officially called the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, because of this case.
“But I do not think it would affect the operational part of it. I do not think there would be popular opposition to EDCA in that sense,” Casiple said.
Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario said Wednesday the country would seek a waiver of the U.S. custody rule if Pemberton is charged.
During a Philippine Senate foreign affairs hearing he said “for the Philippine government, it would be totally unacceptable" to detain Pemberton at the U.S. Embassy, as was done in the case involving Lance Corporal Daniel Smith.
Smith was convicted by a Philippine court to life in prison for the 2005 rape of a Filipina, also in Subic Bay. Smith was held at the U.S. embassy for the duration of his case, amid public outcry.
The case was dismissed after the woman said in 2007 she could not definitively say she was raped.