OLONGAPO CITY: The US Marine suspected of having killed a transgender in this city did not show up on Tuesday during a preliminary investigation of a murder complaint filed against him.
Lawyer Rowena Garcia told prosecutor Emilie Fe delos Santos that her client, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, was not required to personally appear at the prosecutor’s office for the preliminary probe to submit his counter-affidavit.
Garcia said the subpoena issued by the prosecutor only directed Pemberton to submit his sworn statement.
But delos Santos ordered Pemberton to attend the next investigation on October 27.
Pemberton was accused of killing Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude on October 11, 2014. He is among the 3,500 US soldiers who joined this year’s joint military training with Filipino troops under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). He is being held aboard the USS Peleliu docked on Subic Bay.
Laude’s family and German boyfriend Marc Sueselbeck attended the preliminary investigation, as well as lawyer Harry Roque, who filed the murder complaint against Pemberton in behalf of the victim’s family.
Also on Tuesday, US Secretary of State John Kerry said due process should be observed in the investigation of the complaint against Pemberton.
“The people of the Philippines who are gracious enough to permit an arrangement whereby we meet mutual interests with this kind of a force’s presence need to know that we’re not seeking a special privilege, that everybody’s rights will be appropriately protected,” Kerry said prior to a meeting with Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario on Monday in Jakarta.
He added that offenses committed by Americans in foreign countries must be dealt with the rule of law, as well as relevant agreements between the US and the host country.
Kerry was referring to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a 1999 military agreement signed under the auspices of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) that allows US soldiers to join military training and exercises in the Philippines.
Nationalist sentiment against the VFA was renewed after Pemberton, 19, was linked to the death of Laude.
Kerry noted that Washington only seeks due process “to unfold appropriately” while laws and rights are upheld.
“That’s exactly what we will do here. Due process will play out, and we will work with the Philippines in order to make certain that rule of law and the agreement are upheld,” he said.
Kerry also reiterated Washington’s commitment to the provisions of the VFA amid calls for its scrapping.
“We will, indeed, uphold our agreements with our friends in the Philippines; they deserve nothing less,” he stressed.
Del Rosario and Kerry are in Indonesia to attend the inauguration of President Joko Widodo.
Meanwhile, Rep. Terry Ridon of Kabataan party-list also on Tuesday said Pemberton’s non-appearance in the preliminary investigation is a foreshadowing of how the US will be able to control criminal proceedings in favor of its accused serviceman.
“Pemberton’s no-show feat in today’s preliminary investigation at the Olongapo Prosecutor’s Office only goes to show that the Aquino administration has basically failed to exhaust everything in its power to compel Washington to produce the suspect,” Ridon noted.
The lawmaker lauded delos Santos for ordering Pemberton to personally appear on October 27.
“Good thing we have a city prosecutor who has guts to order Pemberton’s personal appearance. She exhibited the resolve that the whole executive department failed to display,” Ridon said.
“At present, Pemberton’s stay in the country and his participation in the criminal investigation is solely based on the mere voluntary cooperation of the US military.
All this is due to the fact that the Philippine government failed to demand for Pemberton’s custody at the first instance,” he added.
With NEIL A. ALCOBER