US takes custody of suspect in transgender woman's slay

MANILA, Philippines – The United States on Tuesday, October 14, confirmed it has taken custody of the US Marine suspected to have murdered a transgender Filipino in Olongapo City.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the Philippines, however, could ask the US “to waive custody,” as critics fear another battle over custody of a US serviceman who broke Philippine law. (READ: EDCA, Olongapo murder, and the old case of Daniel Smith)

“He is being held onboard USS Peleliu while a joint Naval Criminal Investigative Service and Philippine National Police investigation is conducted,” the US Embassy in the Philippines said in a statement.

The US Embassy did not name the US Marine who “has been identified as a possible suspect” in the murder of Jeffrey Laude, 26, also known as Jennifer.

The most that the embassy could reveal, based on the statement, is that the suspect “is assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, out of Camp Lejeune, North Carolina.”

“The United States will continue to fully cooperate with Philippine law enforcement authorities in every aspect of the investigation,” the embassy said.

Laude was found dead on the floor of a comfort room of Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City, police said Sunday, October 12. Laude's head “was leaning” on a toilet bowl, while the victim's lower body "was partially covered with a color cream blanket.” 

A witness last saw Laude with an “unidentified male white foreigner,” who sports a marine “style of hair cut” and is between 25 and 30 years old. 

Philippines to seek custody

Del Rosario, for his part, acknowledged that “in the normal course of events, the US would have custody” of the suspect. The US, however, “would have to produce the suspect for court cases.”

“But in the case of heinous crimes, we could ask them to waive custody, so I suppose it will go in that direction,” Del Rosario, a former Philippine ambassador to the US, said in an interview with reporters Monday, October 13.

Del Rosario added that according to US Pacific Command chief Admiral Samuel Locklear, US warships that took part in the exercises would remain in the Philippines "until there is clarity to the situation.”

The murder case comes after a Philippine court, in 2006, sentenced US Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith to 40 years in jail for raping a Filipina a year earlier.

In Smith's case, women's and rights groups questioned US custody over Smith. At that time, the Philippine government turned over custody of Smith to the US Embassy, where he remained while his case was pending before the Makati City court and even after the same court had convicted him.

Article V, Paragraph 6 of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which allowed the return of US troops to the Philippines, states: “The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with the United States military authorities, if they so request.” – with reports from Carmela Fonbuena and Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

Paterno R. Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II is a senior reporter leading Rappler’s coverage of religion and foreign affairs. He finished MA Journalism in Ateneo and MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.

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