US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, a suspect in the gruesome killing of a transgender Filipino woman, is escorted to his detention as he arrives inside the compound of the Camp Aguinaldo military headquarters in Quezon City on October 22, 2014. Image Credit: AP

Manila: An American serviceman was charged on Tuesday with the murder of a Filipino transgender person in central Luzon last Saturday, prompting progressive and women’s groups to call for justice for the victim.

They said he must not be victimised again by the one-sidedness of a defence agreement between the United States and the Philippines which has allowed yearly joint war games, the latest of which was off a former American war facility in central Luzon, sources said.

“As requested by the grieving family members of the victim, Jeffrey Laude (also known as Jen), President Benigno Aquino must order for the arrest of the suspected killer. American warships docked in Subic Bay [in Olongapo, Zambales] should not be allowed to leave so that the suspected American killer won’t escape,” Congresswoman Emmi de Jesus of Gabriela Women’s Part, a sectoral seat at the House of Representatives told Gulf News.

“The death of Jeffrey Laude is much worse than the fate of Nicole, who was raped by an American serviceman in Subic in 2005. This case will highlight once again the one-sidedness of the United States-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which has allowed the holding of joint US-Philippine war games in our country every year,” said Congressman Neri Colmenares of Bayan, a militant sectoral party at the House of Representatives.

Teary-eyed Michelle Laude, the victim’s sister, said on TV at the wake in their home in Olongapo’s village, “We want justice for my brother. He was brutally murdered. He was tortured.”

Narrating how the victim was murdered at Celzone Lodge, the sister said, “He was naked. His neck was strangled. It was broken when his entire face was dumped deep into the toilet bowl.”

Hearing this, her brother Rex cried loud.

Recalling the victim’s good deeds, Rex said, “He supported the education of one sibling. He supported the medical needs of a relative who suffered from a stroke.” He referred to Felicio Estoncillo who was crying hard at the wake.

The Philippine National Police prepared on Tuesday a charge sheet against Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, member of a US Marine Corps 2nd Battalion 9th Marines assigned at West Pace Express — for the murder of Laude, said Police director Senior Superintendent Pedrito delos Reyes‎ of Olongapo City.

Mark Clarence Gelviro‎, 22, identified Pemberton through photos of suspected killers that the US Naval Crime Investigation Service (NCIS) provided the Philippine National Police (PNP). The witness was with Laude at the Ambyanz Disco bar where the latter met Pemberton, explained Senior Superintendent Wilben Mayor, spokesman of the Philippine National Police (PNP).

Pemberton was also seen on the CCTV footage of the Abryanz Hotel as one of the four men who approached Laude on the evening of October 11.

Pemberton was seen on the CCTV footage of Celzone Lodge when he and Laude checked in; and when he left the lodge alone at 11.45 in the evening.

Investigators said the American serviceman was probably outraged when he found out that Laude was transgender. But two used condoms were found in the room’s garbage can. Other investigators centred on the possibility that Laude tried to steal from the US serviceman.

When asked if Pemberton will be detained by Philippine authorities, Mayor said, “We will follow the provisions of the US-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).”

In response, Eduardo Oban, executive director of the Visiting Forces Agreement Commission said that US Admiral Samuel Locklear ordered the USS Peleliu and another warship to stay in Subic Bay, off the former US Naval Base in Olongapo City, until after the investigation of the murder case is over.

American authorities detained Pemberton and three other American servicemen at USS Peliliu, sources said.

At the same time, other groups prepared for protest rallies and called for the holding of vigils for justice for Laude.

“We don’t want a repeat of the rape case of a Filipina in Olongapo City in 2005,” said the group Gabriela.

In 2006, a lower court in Metro Manila’s Makati City convicted Lance Corporal Daniel Smith for raping Nicole (her identity throughout the trial) in Olongapo City in November 2005. He was jailed at Makati City, but Smith’s custody was transferred to US authorities, allowing him to serve time at the US Embassy in Manila.

In 2009, the victim retracted and said she doubted the circumstances of the rape, which resulted in the dismissal of the case by the Court of Appeals.