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Murder case filed vs US marine over Laude slay

Olongapo prosecutors filed a murder case against a US marine over the killing of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude.

Olongapo City Chief Prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos told reporters on Monday, December 15, that the prosecution panel recommended that US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton be charged with murder, not the lower charge of homicide.

De Los Santos said that the prosecution found “aggravating qualifying circumstances” that showed that Laude’s killing was a murder.

“It’s a capital offense so there will be no bail. There was aggravated treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty. That counts as a qualifying circumstance. Because you have those 3 aggravating qualifying circumstances… it’s murder,” De Los Santos said.

De Los Santos said that the recommendation is detailed in a 23-page resolution. The case was already raffled off, and lawyers said they are expecting the issuance of an arrest warrant soon.  

Harry Roque, lawyer for the Laude family, called the filing of the case “a huge victory.”

Roque said that the case was crucial because it concerned the Philippines’ military deal with the United States, the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

“This means the private complainant proved not just the killing of Laude but that she was killed in a brutal manner,” Roque said. “This is the first step to justice. This is not an ordinary case but it’s under the VFA. The question is: where will Pemberton be detained? Will he be handcuffed and brought to face the court?”

Last week, the Laude camp filed a motion asking De Los Santos to inhibit from the case, citing the city prosecutor's alleged bias and hostility against the Laude family's lawyers.

Roque told Rappler that he had been able to speak with De Los Santos after she announced the decision to file murder charges against the US marine.

But he added that their motion asking for another prosecutor to handle the case remains.

Slammed for 'special treatment'

Roque and the Laude family have slammed what they called the special treatment of Pemberton, who is under US custody based on the VFA.

The VFA states that custody will remain with the US until “the completion of the judicial proceedings.” Yet the agreement also provides that the Philippines may request for custody in “extraordinary cases.” The Philippines has said it may seek custody over Pemberton once a warrant is issued, a request that the US can opt to deny.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs said Monday that it will await the court’s decision on probable cause, and “the next steps to proceed.”

“In accordance with the VFA, we look forward to the full cooperation of the US government in ensuring that justice is secured for Jeffrey ‘Jennifer’ Laude,” said DFA spokesperson Charles Jose.

Pemberton is detained at the Philippine military headquarters but the US keeps custody over him.

Witnesses said Pemberton and Laude met at a disco bar in Olongapo City on October 11. Laude was later found dead in the bathroom of a motel room.

The case fanned anti-American sentiment, and led to renewed calls to abrogate the VFA on the grounds that it is supposedly lopsided in favor of the US.

Observers compare the Laude case to the 2005 rape case of Suzette “Nicole” Nicolas involving 4 US marines led by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith also in Olongapo City. A Philippine court convicted Smith but “Nicole” later recanted her testimony, leading to his acquittal by the appeals court.

'No special treatment'

Laude’s sister, Marilou, said she was grateful for the prosecutors’ recommendation.

“I am glad that the case of murder is filed and I hope the court will be stricter and ask for the cooperation of the lawyers and the accused,” Marilou Laude told reporters.

Akbayan Representative Walden Bello, who was also present in court on Monday, said there must be no special treatment for Pemberton.

“This has been a big victory for the Laude family, the [legal] team, and the Filipino people. Justice must be done for the Laude family, for the country.” 

“This shows that this arrangement like the VFA is not good for our citizens and for our country. I repeat the call of that there should be no special treatment for Pemberton. He should be treated as a on ordinary person being prosecuted,” Bello said. – Rappler.com