Family of killed transgender Filipino files murder case against US Marine

A protester shouts slogans during a rally to condemn the murder of a local transgender person in front of the foreign affairs office in Manila on Oct 15, 2014. The family of Mr Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude filed a murder case on Wednesday afternoon
A protester shouts slogans during a rally to condemn the murder of a local transgender person in front of the foreign affairs office in Manila on Oct 15, 2014. The family of Mr Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude filed a murder case on Wednesday afternoon in the case against an American Marine who was the last person seen with the victim as they checked into a hotel in this city on Saturday night. -- PHOTO: AFP

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines (AFP/THE PHILIPPINE DAILY INQUIRER/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The family of Mr Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude filed a murder case on Wednesday afternoon in the case against an American Marine who was the last person seen with the victim as they checked into a hotel in this city on Saturday night.

Lawyer Harry Roque, who represented the Laude family, accompanied by three policemen, filed the case against Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, a member of the United States Marine Corps, at the Olongapo City prosecutor's office at 4.50pm.

The complainant was Ms Marilou Laude, the victim's sister.

Pemberton was identified by the Philippine National Police and Olongapo City Mayor Rolen Paulino as the primary suspect in Mr Laude's killing.

The US Embassy in Manila did not identify Pemberton, but said the suspect was being held on the USS Peleliu, which is docked in Subic Bay here, while the US Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the PNP investigate the case.

Mr Laude was found dead, his head slumped in a toilet bowl, inside a room at the Celzone Lodge at 11.45pm on Saturday. A room attendant discovered Mr Laude's body minutes after the suspect left the hotel alone.

Mr Laude's death certificate showed that the victim died from "asphyxia by drowning".

The Philippine authorities also launched criminal proceedings on Wednesday against the Marine, in a case that has sparked anti-American protests.Police referred their case to prosecutors recommending that Pemberton be charged with murder, Olongapo city police spokesman Inspector Michelle Depano said.The US Embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.Prosecutors now have to decide if there is sufficient evidence to try Pemberton – a process that can take weeks. If tried and convicted, Pemberton could face life in jail.“I think we have sufficient evidence to sustain the charge of murder,” Mr Roque told local television network ABS-CBN.Pemberton, assigned to a Marine unit based in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, was identified by a witness as the last person seen with the victim on Saturday night, according to police.The killing came amid talks aimed at raising the American military presence in the Philippines – a key Asian ally that is also embroiled in maritime territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea.Earlier Wednesday, Filipino officials took pains to portray the murder as an “isolated incident” that should not be allowed to derail ties with Washington.The Philippine military has been boosting its ties with the United States, with which it has a mutual defence treaty, as part of efforts to upgrade its defence capabilities.“We call on all concerned not to lose sight of the bigger picture and to look at these (defence ties) as different issues,” Philippine defence department spokesman Peter Paul Galvez said in a statement.“This is an isolated incident, albeit a tragic one.” “If we don’t have assistance, we will never develop our capabilities,” he said.In March, the Philippines and the United States signed a new accord that would allow American troops greater access to Philippine facilities in support of US President Barack Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia.However, the construction of facilities to house the temporary US military presence has been held up by a legal challenge.About 100 left-wing protesters staged a rally outside the foreign department on Wednesday, demanding Manila take custody of Pemberton.Another protest was held outside the US embassy on Tuesday.Manila has said it will seek to take Pemberton into custody once charges are filed in court.Under a visiting forces agreement signed in 1998, the Philippines has jurisdiction over crimes committed by US forces unrelated to the training exercises.The US has custody of suspects unless it agrees to a Philippine request to hand them over.In 2006, a Philippine court sentenced US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to 40 years in jail for raping a Filipina a year earlier.Smith walked free in 2009 after his accuser recanted her statement, prompting an appellate court to acquit him.