It is up to Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, the suspect in the killing of a transgender last week, to decide if he will attend the preliminary investigation of the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office on Tuesday, the US Embassy said on Sunday.
In a statement, the United States Embassy in Manila said Pemberton would have to consult his legal counsel before deciding whether to attend the hearing tomorrow.
“Whether the suspect will appear on Tuesday is a decision that he will make in consultation with his Philippine legal counsel, in accordance with Philippine law,” the statement said.
But when asked for the identity of Pemberton’s legal counsel, US Embassy spokesman Kurt Hoyer said they do not have that information. But reports said Pemberton will be represented by the Angara, Abello, Concepcion, Regala and Cruz (ACCRA) law firm.
“Decisions about personal legal counsel are private decisions,” Hoyer added in a text message.
The statement, however, maintained that the US will continue “to fully cooperate and collaborate with Philippine authorities in all aspects of the case concerning the death of Jennifer Laude.”
Laude was last seen with Pemberton, a 19-year-old US Marine of the 2nd Batallion, 9th Marines, based in Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) on Friday said Assistant Secretary Ed de Vega of the legal office and the Olongapo Prosecutor’s Office served the subpoena documents to the US Embassy
A subpoena was also presented to four other Marines required as witnesses to the crime.
But the US Embassy said the witnesses will not be appearing for the preliminary investigation on Tuesday because city prosecutors already met with them last week and “swore them to their statements in accordance with Philippine law, satisfying the requirements of the City Prosecutor and the ‘make available’ language” of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
“The witnesses will not appear on Tuesday, as they have already met their current legal obligations. In accordance with the VFA, the witnesses will be made available for the trial,” the embassy said.
In his official Twitter account, US Ambassador to Manila Philip Goldberg maintained that the US will make available the suspect and witnesses as provided for by the VFA.
He said the US will coordinate with the Philippines in seeking justice for Laude.
Goldberg noted that contrary to some militant groups’ claims, “the VFA helped close coordination between the United States and Philippine authorities” in investigating Laude’s case.
Pemberton and the four witnesses are detained in USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault vessel moored in Subic Freeport.
The question on Pemberton’s appearance at Tuesday’s hearing is the reason why the VFA should be scrapped, said Harry Roque, legal counsel for the Laude family.
Under normal circumstances, the legal system would have ordered the appearance of Pemberton and the witnesses, Roque told The Manila Times.
“US servicemen, even if they commit non-service related offenses, are not under the jurisdiction of [the Philippines]. Utang na loob pa natin [We would even owe them] if they chose to participate in local proceedings,” he said.
Under the VFA, the suspect will be charged in a Philippine court but custody will remain with the Americans unless the US government waives this.
Philippine diplomats have said they will ask for Pemberton’s custody once an arrest warrant is issued but it is not clear if the United States will grant this.
The Philippines has said the politically charged case should not be allowed to derail long-standing defense ties.