Dozens of people protested outside the U.S. Embassy in Manila on Tuesday demanding the expulsion of U.S. troops and calling for justice for the death of a transgender woman allegedly at the hands of a Marine.
Twenty-six-year-old Jennifer Laude, identified in some media reports as Jeffrey Laude, was found dead Saturday night at a hotel in Olongapo City, which is located on Subic Bay, about 60 miles from Manila Bay.
Various details are emerging of what transpired the evening Laude died—that she met the suspect at a bar, the two went back to the hotel together, she was found in the hotel room with signs of strangulation, beatings and drowning, and there were used condoms in the room.
The suspect in the case has been identified by an eyewitness and CCTV footage as Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, who is being held on board the USS Peleliu. Pemberton is among thousands of Marines who were in the area for joint military exercises carried out by U.S. and Philippine forces.
Philippines' military chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said that though "we're alarmed," the situation "will not affect our relationship with the United States."
Stars and Stripes reported Tuesday that five warships are being held in port as the investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and the Philippine National Police continues. The U.S. Embassy has stated that "United States will continue to fully cooperate with Philippine law enforcement authorities in every aspect of the investigation."
Key in what will happen to Pemberton is a pact between the two countries—an agreement critics like the League of Filipino Students say previously allowed U.S. servicemember Daniel Smith to evade local justice after he raped a woman.
"Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the custody of the erring soldier stays with the Americans," Catapang said following a meeting with the U.S. Pacific commander Admiral Samuel Locklear.
That agreement states that "the custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request." Still, the Philippines Sun.Star reported that Olongapo City Police will file charges against Pemberton by Wednesday.
"If the suspect is indeed found to be a U.S. personnel, the Philippine government should stop being the perennial doormat and exercise jurisdiction over the case and take custody of the accused in accordance to Philippine laws," said Joms Salvador, Secretary General of GABRIELA, a Philippines-based women's rights group.
"The Philippine government has been turning a blind eye long enough. It is high time to end all unfair agreements and start protecting their own citizens. Filipino women must show their outrage against such injustices," Salvador stated.
Renato Reyes, head of a Philippine organization opposed to the VFA, told Reuters, "Our proposal is simple."
"Surrender the American soldier to Philippine authorities, then allow all U.S. ships and military personnel to leave and never come back," Reyes said.
Advocates for Laude in the United States, including GABRIELA New York and the BAYAN Queer Caucus, have planned a rally for Wednesday in front of the New York Consulate calling on the Aquino administration to heed the calls for justice.
"We call for a thorough investigation and demand to assert the country’s laws and have the suspect face the Philippine court," BAYAN Queer Caucus Organizer Jenab-i Pareja said in a media statement. "We also call for an immediate junking of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which has been proven to not protect the rights of the Filipino People, but are in favor of protecting the U.S. troops and its imperialist power."