4 US Marines summoned to testify on Olongapo slay

MANILA, Philippines – Prosecutors required 4 US Marines on Friday, October 16, to testify on the murder of transgender woman Jennifer Laude, 26, who was allegedly killed by their colleague, 19-year-old Joseph Scott Pemberton.

The Philippine Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) brought their subpoenas on Friday to the US Embassy in Manila.

At the same time, the DFA also delivered the subpoena and complaint against Private First Class Pemberton.

Pemberton faces a murder complaint filed by Laude's family.

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the US, the DFA is supposed to present the subpoena to American servicemen accused of crimes in the Philippines.

The DFA said preliminary investigation into the case will start on October 21.

“The Department of Foreign Affairs is committed to working with other government agencies in the pursuit of justice,” the DFA said in a statement.

The subpoenas came after another witness, 42-year-old technician Edgar Cabanela, involved 3 male white foreigners in the case. In a sworn statement obtained by Rappler, he said the foreigners had been looking for “buddy Pemberton” half an hour after Laude was found dead.

Cabanela said a “gay person” approached the 3 foreigners and told them, “Your friend killed my friend.” Upon hearing this, he said, the 3 quickly fled.

Laude was found dead on the floor of a comfort room of Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City, police said, calling it a “crime of hatred.” A witness last saw Laude with a “male white foreigner.”

Questions on custody

The lawyer of Laude's family, Harry Roque, however doubts if government prosecutors can successfully summon Pemberton.

“We filed the criminal complaint that would trigger the process of preliminary investigation to begin. We had doubts about whether the proceedings could move forward given that the respondent, PFC Joseph Scott Pemberton, is still in the custody of his American superiors,” Roque said in a statement.

The other question is, if the Philippine government can take custody of Pemberton.

DFA spokesman Charles Jose earlier said the Philippines will seek custody of Pemberton, but “it's not guaranteed” that the US will grant the request.

Article V, Paragraph 6 of the VFA, which allowed the return of US troops to the Philippines, states: “The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with the United States military authorities, if they so request.”

Laude's death has revived calls to scrap the VFA.

In 2006, the VFA's critics also questioned US custody of another US serviceman, Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who was sentenced to 40 years in jail for raping a Filipina a year earlier. – Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.