14 October 2014

US bars ships from leaving PHL after slay of transgender woman

US Pacific Commander Samuel Locklear has barred American military vessels from leaving the Philippines until the investigation on the alleged killing of a Filipino transgender woman by a US Marine is over, a senior Philippine official said Monday.

Transgender woman Jeffrey Laude was found dead in an Olongapo City inn over the weekend. She was reported to have been seen with a foreigner before her death.

“I’d like to tell you that the Pacific Commander ordered that no US ships will leave the Philippines until we are done with the investigation,” Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) Executive Director Eduardo Oban told reporters at the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA).

The US Embassy in a statement said a US Marine had been identified "as a possible suspect in the ongoing investigation."

"The United States will continue to fully cooperate with Philippine law enforcement authorities in every aspect of the investigation," it added.

According to a report on Marine Corps Times, citing an internal Navy memo, a US Marine has been placed in custody on board the Peleliu in connection with the incident.

Filipino and US officials in the Philippines, however, have yet to confirm this.

Chief Superintendent Raul Petrasanta, the regional director of the PNP in Central Luzon, said some of the members of the US Marines have been presented to witnesses in a police line-up.

"Police line-up pa lang. Pina-identify sa witness and all of them belong to the US Marines," Petrasanta said.


But Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert del Rosario explained that under the VFA, the Philippines could take custody over a US serviceman if he is accused of committing a heinous crime in the country.

“The VFA is very clear that we have jurisdiction. In the normal course of events, the US would have custody, but they would have to produce the suspect for court cases. But in the case of heinous crimes, we could ask them to waive custody and so I suppose it could go in that direction,” he said in an interview.

In an event an American servicemen is involved in a crime in the country, the Philippines has the jurisdication over the case, according to the the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

However, the VFA also said that the custody of the suspect goes to the United States of America. But, the US authorities are mandated to present the suspect in all judicial proceedings.

"As embodied in the VFA--it's under article 5, paragraph 6--the custody of a US serviceman involved in a particular case resides in the US military authorities," Oban said.

The VFA governs the treatment of US servicemen in military units and defense personnel who are in the Philippine territory for short periods for joint military exercises approved by both the Philippine and US governments.

American soldiers regularly train with their Filipino counterparts as allowed by the VFA, which entered into force on May 27, 1999, eight years after the closure of US military bases in the Philippines in 1991. It was negotiated and signed during the time of President Fidel V. Ramos and ratified during President Joseph Estrada’s time.

Oban said the suspect was part of the more than 3,500 American troops who took part in joint military exercises in Zambales last month.

PHL-US relations

The incident came out in the media months after the Philippines and the US signed a new military pact that will expand the presence and role of American soldiers in the country.

The suspected American marine, who was not identified by US and Philippine officials, is the second US soldier to be involved in a criminal act in the country since 2005.

Nine years ago, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith was charged and later on convicted for the rape of a Filipino woman. The case, which sparked a diplomatic row between Manila and Washington, was dismissed after the victim reversed her testimony.

Laude, 26, was found dead inside the Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City. Initial reports said she was last seen with a foreigner.

The DFA said it is closely coordinating with the US government and concerned agencies on the issue.

“We have received an initial report on the incident and we note that investigations are ongoing and we are awaiting the results of the investigation,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose told a press briefing. “We are committed to do our part to ensure that justice is served.”

Del Rosario, for his part, described the incident as “tragic.”

“But we will work together in terms of being able to deliver what’s just,” he said. (KBK/NB, GMA News)