Olongapo hearing to push through with or without US Marine

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines – The preliminary hearing on the killing of transgender woman Jennifer Laude will push through on Tuesday, October 21, even without the personal appearance of the US Marine considered as the primary suspect.

Olongapo City assistant prosecutor Ria Nina Sususco said on Monday, October 20, that US Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton has not told prosecutors if he will appear in the hearing to answer the murder complaint filed by Laude's family last week.

Sususco said it's possible that only Pemberton's lawyer will go to represent his client, following the subpoena issued by prosecutors.

Earlier, the US embassy said it is up to Pemberton's lawyers to decide whether he will appear personally in the investigation.

The 19-year-old US Marine is considered the primary suspect in the death of the 26-year-old Filipino, who was found dead last week at the bathroom of Celzone Lodge in this city.

Witnesses identified Pemberton as the last person seen with Laude at the lodge.

'Expected' to attend

In a media briefing on Monday, Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) spokesman Charles Jose said Pemberton is “expected” to attend the investigation, as stated in the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) signed between the Philippines and the United States.

“With regard to that, the prosecutor will expect the respondent to appear for preliminary investigation tomorrow on the basis of the VFA that says US military authorities shall, upon formal notification by the Philippine authorities and without delay, make such personnel available to those authorities in time for any investigative or judicial proceedings,” Jose said.

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the prosecutors “will insist” on Pemberton's presence to avoid perceptions of “special treatment.”

Normally, De Lima said, an accused has to execute his affidavit before a prosecutor. She said she sees “no reason” why Pemberton should be an exception.

Sususco said whether or not Pemberton appears, the hearing will push through as due process had been followed, with the copy of the complaint already transmitted to Pemberton through the DFA.

While it's not yet certain if Pemberton will appear on Tuesday, Sususco said there is a possibility that he may attend succeeding hearings.

A panel of 5, headed by City Prosecutor Emily Fe Delos Santos, has yet to determine the number of hearings on the murder complaint.

Earlier Monday, Laude's sister Marilou said she wanted Pemberton to appear in person to reassure the family that the American soldier, who is held on board the USS Peleliu, is still in the Philippines.

Four US witnesses to the case have already left the country, according to the DFA, after having already satisfied legal requirements and submitting their sworn statements to Philippine prosecutors. – with reports from Randy Datu/Rappler.com