Asia

US Marine in detention over Philippines murder

A protest near the Hall of Justice in Olongapo Image copyright AFP
Image caption The case has sparked anger in recent weeks over the Philippines' agreement with the US Army

A US Marine accused of murdering a woman in the Philippines has been transferred to a Philippine army base, the US Marine Corps has said.

Pte First Class Joseph Pemberton is suspected of killing Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman who was found dead in a hotel bathroom on 12 October.

He failed to appear at an initial court hearing on Tuesday, but his lawyers said his presence was not required.

Ms Laude's family have called on the US to ensure justice is done.

"We hope the Americans will bring him out. They're coddling a worthless man," her mother, Julita Laude, told reporters.

Pte Pemberton was on leave in the northern port city of Olongapo on 11 October after joint military exercises with the Philippine army when he met Ms Laude - previously known as Jeffrey - in a bar.

Police say they left together and checked into a hotel, where she was found dead the next day, apparently strangled and with her head inside the hotel toilet.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Mourners paid tribute to victim Jennifer Laude, found dead in a hotel bathroom on 12 October
Image copyright AP
Image caption Julita Laude has called on the US to produce the suspect in Jennifer's death

Under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Philippines, the US can retain custody its military personnel wanted for crimes in the country.

Pte Pemberton did not attend Tuesday's hearing to be named as a suspect by police, but his lawyer, Rowena Garcia Flores, said her client was still studying the complaint against him and he was not required to appear in person.

Fe de los Santos, chief prosecutor in the case, argued the Marine was ordered to attend and demanded he appear at the next hearing on 27 October.

"The attendance of the Marine will serve as a very good assessment of the willingness of the US government to comply with the provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement," he said.

Late on Tuesday the US Marine Corps said he had been moved from his ship the USS Peleliu to Camp Aguinaldo, the military headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Quezon City, where he would remain under US guard.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption A small group of protesters gathered outside the courthouse in Olongapo

In a statement, the corps said it was fully co-operating with the Philippine authorities but that it was "important to remember that anyone accused of a crime is presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law".

Earlier this year, the US signed a 10-year deal with the Philippines allowing for a bigger US military presence in the country and better US access to military bases, ports and airfields.

The deal came as the relationship between the Philippines and China worsened because of their disputes over maritime territories.

But critics say the arrangement damages Philippine sovereignty and does not benefit the country. The death of Ms Laude sparked renewed anti-US protests at court hearings, with protesters calling on the Philippines to drop the VFA.

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said on Monday the crime should not sour ties with the US, while Secretary of State John Kerry has said Washington is not seeking "special privilege" for the suspect but only protection of his rights.

Several US warships were ordered to remain in the Philippines while the investigation continued, but the USS Peleliu has now been authorised to leave.

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