Asia Philippines’ Aquino says US ties above transgender murder

Philippines’ Aquino says US ties above transgender murder

Philippine President Benigno Aquino
Philippine President Benigno Aquino

Philippine President Benigno Aquino said Monday the murder of a Filipino transgender prostitute allegedly by a US Marine should not sour ties with the United States.

Aquino said there were no grounds to void a bilateral agreement that allows the US military to conduct regular training exercises involving thousands of troops on Philippine territory.

“Name me any place that doesn’t have any crime. And the sin of one person should be reflective of the entire country? I don’t think so,” he told reporters at a ceremony to mark a World War II victory by the allies.

Aquino said both governments were making sure the Visiting Forces Agreement that governs American military behaviour in the Philippines was being followed in the criminal proceedings.

Philippine prosecutors have summoned Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton to appear before a preliminary murder hearing in the northern port city of Olongapo on Tuesday.

Police said Pemberton was the last person seen with the victim, Jeffrey Laude, before he was found dead in a hotel bathroom on October 12 with his head in the toilet and marks of strangulation on his neck.

The murder placed defence ties between the two countries under scrutiny. It recalled a 2005 rape case involving a Filipina and a US Marine, who like Pemberton was in the country for joint military exercises.

But in a ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of US General Douglas MacArthur’s return that paved the way for the Philippines’ liberation from Japan, Aquino reaffirmed the alliance with the United States.

The US landing in Leyte Gulf set the stage for one of the largest naval battles of World War II and made a hero out of MacArthur for fulfilling his “I shall return” promise.

“Let us renew our commitment to the strong and enduring friendships between the Philippines and its wartime allies,” Aquino said.

Without directly mentioning the murder case, US ambassador Philip Goldberg said the two countries could surpass “challenges and uncertainties”.

“Just as in the case 70 years ago we will prevail,” he said.

Under the bilateral agreement, the United States has primary custody over its personnel accused before Philippine courts. But the Philippines has criminal jurisdiction.

Philippine Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said prosecutors would “insist” on Pemberton’s appearance on Tuesday.

Pemberton had not informed prosecutors if he would attend Tuesday’s hearing, Olongapo city assistant prosecutor Ria Nina Sususco told AFP.

Four other Marines earlier gave statements to Philippine prosecutors as witnesses. They will not attend the hearing on Tuesday, according to the US embassy.