YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan -- A U.S. Marine suspected in the death of a transgender in the Philippines has been transferred from custody on an American ship to a Philippine military base.
Local police have filed a murder complaint against the Marine, who they have identified as Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was seen entering the Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City on Oct. 11 with Jeffrey Laude, 26, also known as Jennifer. Laude's naked body was discovered in a hotel bathroom a short time later.
In a statement Wednesday, U.S. Marine Corps Forces Pacific -- which has yet to confirm Pemberton's identity pending official charges -- announced that a suspect had been transferred from the USS Peleliu to a holding location at Camp Aguinaldo, the military headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines in Quezon City.
"The Marine will remain in the custody of the United States pursuant to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the Republic of the Philippines," Marine Corps spokesman Col. Brad Bartelt said in the statement.
Custody of American servicemembers accused of crimes has long been a sticking point in the Philippines, and is a major issue for leftist and student groups that have been protesting outside the U.S. Embassy since the slaying took place and are looking for any signs of favoritism in the handling of the case.
The slaying has been widely played in the Philippine media, though it is unclear whether there will be any long-term impact on the two countries' recent agreement to bolster the U.S. military's presence in the Philippines, a former American colony.
As part of the Pacific pivot toward the Asia-Pacific region as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have wound down, the U.S. has been moving toward prepositioning rotational forces, materiel and disaster aid in the Philippines. U.S. bases here were closed down in 1991 after the Philippine Senate refused to renew their leases.
A joint investigation of Laude's death by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Philippine National Police is ongoing, Bartelt said.
The suspect, who is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, based at Camp Lejeune, N.C., will remain in the Philippines during the investigation of the death and any judicial proceedings, he said.
"The Marine Corps is working closely and cooperating fully with Philippine authorities to ensure a thorough investigation is completed and due process of law is followed," Bartelt said.
With the transfer of the suspect, the commander of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, has authorized the Peleliu to depart Subic Bay, he said. The ship was among five Navy vessels to port at Subic Bay following joint military exercises in the Philippines. The other four were allowed to leave last week.