Philippine government prosecutors charged a detained U.S. Marine with murder Monday in the killing of a Filipino transgender woman that reignited an irritant between the military allies over custody of American military personnel suspected of committing crimes.
Prosecutor Emily de los Santos said there was "probable cause" that Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton killed Jennifer Laude, whose former name was Jeffrey, in a motel room where the victim's body was found in October in Olongapo city, northwest of Manila. She had apparently been drowned in a toilet bowl.
"It's murder," De los Santos told reporters after filing the non-bailable charge against the 19-year-old Pemberton before a regional court. "It was aggravated by treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty."
The case reignited a debate over custody of American military personnel accused of crimes. But the looming irritant between the treaty allies over Pemberton's custody was eased after Washington agreed to move him from a U.S. warship to the Philippine military's main camp in metropolitan Manila, where he remained under American custody with an outer ring of Filipino guards.
Pemberton, who has not been seen in public, would have to appear during court arraignment, De los Santos said, urging loved ones of the victim, who doubted whether the Marine was still in the country, to attend to see him for the first time.
Harry Roque, the lawyer of Laude's family, welcomed the prosecutors' ruling and angrily demanded that Pemberton be thrown into an ordinary jail.
The murder case comes as the Philippines and the United States strengthen ties with the recent signing of a defense accord that allows greater U.S. access to Philippine military camps. The accord would help Washington's bid to reassert its presence in Asia, and for Manila to deter what it calls China's aggressive moves to reinforce its claims in disputed South China Sea territories.