4 Marine witnesses in Laude slay case leave PH – DFA

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The four US witnesses to the killing of a Filipino transgender woman in Olongapo City allegedly by an American serviceman have left the country, the Department of Foreign Affairs said on Monday.

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Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said this was the information that was gathered by the department from the US Embassy in Manila.

“DFA was not informed by the US side that four witnesses were leaving the country. They are not required to do so,” Jose said. The unidentified witnesses are believed to be members of the US Marines.

Jose explained that the investigation will proceed despite their non-appearance on Tuesday at the Prosecutor’s Office in Olongapo City since “they have already satisfied the legal requirements.”

“Moreover, the US has given assurance that they will make available the witnesses at the trial,” Jose said.

A murder complaint was filed by the family of Filipino transgender woman against US Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. He was summoned to appear on Oct. 21 before the Olongapo City Prosecutor for preliminary investigation.

Pemberton and the four witnesses were among the hundreds of US troops who participated in military drills in the country that wrapped up last Oct. 10 under the 1998 Visiting Forces Agreement or VFA.

US authorities said they could not confirm if Pemberton will present himself in Tuesday’s proceedings.

Jose said Pemberton’s appearance is expected at the preliminary investigation on the basis of the VFA, a military accord that allows the entry and exit of US personnel in the country for the purpose of joint training with Filipinos soldiers.

“(VFA) says US military authorities shall, upon formal notification of Filipino authorities and without delay, make such personnel available to those authorities in time for any investigative and judicial proceedings,” Jose explained.

Jose warned that Pemberton will be “taking his own risk” by not appearing in the investigation.

“He’s risking a decision that will be unfavorable to him. If the prosecutor recommends the filing of murder charges against him, that’s his problem,” Jose said. “His legal adviser should advise him to appear.” PNA

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