Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton was moved from an American warship to a Philippine military camp in Manila, where he will face questioning over the suspected killing of 26-year-old Jennifer Laude. Pemberton was the last person seen with transgender woman in the northern port city of Olongapo earlier this month.
After legal negotiations between the American military and local authorities, it was finally agreed Pemberton would be removed from the USS Peleliu and detained in the capital.
Pemberton has been transferred to camp Aguinaldo, the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters, where he will be temporarily held in a 20-footer refrigerated container van on suicide watch. This follows protests by left-wing groups demanding that the accused be turned over to Philippine authorities for prosecution and detention.
The incident has revived the memory of a similar event involving another American service member, Daniel Smith, who was convicted of raping a Filipino woman in Olongapo in 2006. An appeals court dismissed the case three years later after the victim recanted her testimony.
Philippine president Benigno Aquino said: “The difference between the Smith case, was that he was held in the US embassy, not our facility. Now, (Pemberton) is in our camp. I think (the US) is responding to our pleas and sensitivities.”
The event has created tensions in the recently-cemented security ties between the Philippines and the US. A new defence pact was signed in April, which will allow greater American military access to the country.
Laude’s death has led to an outcry from the public calling for a repeal of the treaty.
“If we abrogate the treaty does that mean no one will be killed in the Philippines by somebody from America? Will there be a guarantee? I don’t think so,” said Aquino. “We are imperfect beings and this is an imperfect world. What nobody really wants to happen has happened but the tragedy will be settled in that the guilty will be answerable to the crime.”
Pemberton will remain in the Philippine military camp under US custody while the preliminary investigation is being conducted.