By Joel Guinto, AFP
MANILA–Philippine prosecutors on Monday charged a U.S. Marine with murder over the death of a Filipino transgender woman, in a case that has fanned anti-American sentiment and tested close military ties. Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton used ��treachery, abuse of superior authority and cruelty�� against his alleged victim, lead prosecutor Emilie Fe delos Santos said as she announced the charge. ��We believe we have a strong case,�� delos Santos told a nationally televised briefing. Pemberton will not be allowed to post bail, she said. Murder is punishable by up to 40 years in jail. Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old transgender woman also known as Jeffrey, was found dead on Oct. 12 in a cheap hotel in a red light district of the port city of Olongapo.
Pemberton, who had just finished taking part in U.S.-Philippine military exercises near Olongapo, had checked into the hotel with Laude and was the last person seen with her, police said. The charge sheet against Pemberton released on Monday detailed what the prosecutors said was an unprovoked and relentless attack against a defenseless victim. ��Respondent Pemberton choked Jennifer from behind. Obviously, in that position, Jennifer was deprived of the opportunity to defend herself,�� the six-member prosecutors panel said in the charge sheet. ��Undeniably, respondent (Pemberton) made sure that Jennifer was dead. He did not stop at badly beating her up and choking her, he made sure she suffered to her death. ��He deliberately and repeatedly plunged her head down the toilet until she breathed her last.�� Pemberton, aged 19 at the time of the death, had asked via his lawyer to downgrade the murder charge to homicide, which carries a maximum 20-year prison term. He has made no other comment on the case. Outcry
Laude’s death sparked street protests in the Philippines, a former U.S. colony that gained independence in 1946 but has retained a close alliance. An enduring U.S. military presence since the independence has been a constant source of anger for vocal and powerful American critics. The United States was forced to close down two major military bases in 1992, after the Philippine Senate bowed to anti-U.S. sentiment and refused to renew their leases. However the allies in 1998 signed a Visiting Forces Agreement that allowed U.S. troops to take part in war games on Philippine soil. Military exercises involving thousands of U.S. soldiers have since taken place each year. In March a new agreement was signed to allow a greater U.S. troop presence in the Philippines, including more exercises and the building of new facilities. This was part of U.S. President Barack Obama’s so-called pivot to Asia.
Philippine President Benigno Aquino had courted a greater U.S. presence in an effort to counter perceived rising Chinese aggression in a long-running territorial dispute in the South China Sea.