The United States on Saturday said it will comply with a prosecutor’s order to produce a murder suspect and four other US Marines in the investigation into the killing of a transgender Filipino sex worker.
“The United States will continue to assist in the investigation to help ensure justice is served,” US embassy spokeswoman Anna Richey said in an emailed response to Agence France Presse’s requests for comment.
The Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office on Friday ordered Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton to show up for the preliminary investigation of the complaint filed against him on October 21. The US serviceman was also ordered to submit his counter affidavit.
Four other US Marines were also directed to give depositions on Tuesday. The subpoena for Pemberton was sent by Olongapo City Prosecutor Emily Fe delos Santos to the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).
The US embassy vowed to comply with the prosecutor’s order.
“This will include making the suspect, witnesses, and any evidence gathered available to the Philippine authorities,” Richey said.
She said Pemberton was being held on board the USS Peleliu pending an investigation into the death of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.
The four other American marines sought by prosecutors were described by the DFA as witnesses.
The US Pacific Command earlier ordered the warship to remain at a port near Olongapo while the murder investigation was ongoing.
Police said they found the victim half-naked on the bathroom floor of a room with more than a dozen bruises, cuts and bite marks.
They said the victim, who had checked in with the suspect just over an hour earlier, had died from “asphyxia by drowning.”
A murder complaint was filed by lawyer Harry Roque last week in behalf of the victim’s family.
The police and the prosecutor both tagged Pemberton, attached to a North Carolina-based unit that had just taken part in joint military exercises in the Philippines, as the suspect.
Following the hearings, which could take days or weeks, the prosecutor can either bring criminal charges or drop the case. If Pemberton is charged with murder and convicted, he could face life in prison.
The Philippines has said that the politically charged case should not be allowed to derail longstanding defense ties between Manila and Washington, amid growing public pressure for Pemberton to be handed over into Philippines custody.
The killing occurred after the Philippines reached an agreement in March to allow its US military ally wider temporary access to Filipino military facilities.
American forces vacated large US military bases in the Philippines in 1992 as nationalist sentiment rose.
But Manila has sought closer defense ties in recent years in a bid to modernize its armed forces amid tense maritime disputes with China.
Malacañang also on Saturday said the investigation of the complaint against Pemberton should not be rushed because doing so may jeopardize the search for justice.
Deputy Presidential Spokesperson Abigail Valte judicial process should be followed “to make sure that there [are]no technical aspects that are being forgotten.”
“It would also be a disservice to Jennifer if we rush things only to be stopped by technicality,” Valte stressed.
Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the US will have custody of an erring serviceman but the Philippines can request for custody if the crime is heinous.
“The Philippine government is intent on getting justice for Jennifer. Unfortunately, there is a process that we have to follow in terms of dealing with criminal complaints relating to US servicemen here under joint exercises. We need to follow the process and we assure that we are committed in finding justice for Jennifer,” Valte said in a radio interview.
Llanesca T. Panti,