MANILA - The head of the Philippine military says a United States marine’s link to the weekend murder of a transgendered Filipino will not affect the two country’s security relations. The incident happened two days before a meeting of the two countries’ mutual defense and security engagement boards.
Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Gregorio Catapang said the military was supporting the investigation into Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. But he also said he felt badly that his countryman was murdered.
“At the end of the day he’s a Filipino. We have to protect his rights. We have to fight for his rights. And we have to give justice for his untimely death,” said Catapang.
Philippine police said the body of Jeffrey Laude, also known as Jennifer, was found in a hotel bathroom in Olongopo City, where Subic Bay is located, northwest of Manila. Witnesses told police they last saw him Saturday night with Pemberton. That was a day after joint naval exercises closed at Subic.
Catapang made the remarks at a news briefing following talks between the Philippines and the U.S. to plan out yearly bilateral exercises. He said U.S. Pacific commander Samuel Locklear told him he wanted a full investigation of the incident.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila said it was cooperating fully “with Philippine law enforcement authorities in every aspect of the investigation.” The embassy statement says Pemberton is being held on the USS Peleliu, which participated in the recently concluded exercises.
Philippine officials said Locklear has ordered the Peleliu and other ships to remain at Subic pending a joint investigation between the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Philippine National Police.
Under the visiting forces agreement between Manila and Washington, the Philippines has jurisdiction over criminal cases, but the U.S. maintains custody of the accused.
This has been a point of contention for Philippine nationalists. They oppose a recently signed agreement allowing more U.S. troops to visit the country and preposition military hardware.
Renato Reyes is secretary general of the New Patriotic Alliance party, which wants U.S. troops to leave altogether. He said even if the U.S. said it was cooperating fully and officials said the joint security meeting was not affected by the investigation, the incident would raise doubts among the public.
“This casts a shadow on that meeting. It would, again, raise questions on the so-called benefits that we’d get from hosting these troops,” said Reyes.
The two countries have been nurturing close military ties in recent years after a years-long rift caused by the criminal case of another U.S. marine. Private First Class Daniel Smith was sentenced to life in prison for the 2005 rape of a Filipina, also in Subic Bay.
He was detained at an embassy facility, which drew major protests. The woman later recanted her story and his conviction was tossed out.