Joseph Scott Pemberton, a U.S. Marine, was formally charged with murder today for the fatal strangulation of 26-year-old Jennifer Laude Sueselbeck, a transgender Filipina woman.
The crime was allegedly committed while Pemberton was stationed in the Philippines for Marine training exercises. Military sources had concealed Pemberton's name until he was formally charged today.
Earlier this week, Filipino human rights advocates and elected officials demanded Pemberton be turned over to local Philippine authorities, but Reuters reported yesterday that he would remain in U.S. custody. The decision was disparaged by Filipino human rights activists.
"Under the Visiting Forces Agreement, the custody of the erring soldiers stays with Americans," Philippine General Gregorio Catapang said in a statement yesterday after meeting with U.S. Pacific Command officials. However, the Philippines still have criminal jurisdiction and could try the suspect in local courts, Catapang noted.
Many protestors had demanded that the Visiting Forces Agreement be cancelled in the wake of Sueselbeck's murder. The agreement, signed earlier this year, allows for increased rotations of troops, ships, and other U.S. military assets through bases in the Philippines, according to The Diplomat.
"We call for the immediate junking of the Visiting Forces Agreement which has been proven to not protect the rights of the Filipino people but are in favor of protecting the U.S. troops and its imperialist power," the Bayan Queer Caucus said in a written statement following Sueselbeck's death.
Despite this pushback, Catapang said that the alleged murder will "not affect our relationship with the United States," noting that the incident occurred while the soldier was on break from his military duties, according Reuters.
A Marine Corps spokesman stated that it will fully cooperate with Philippine officials during the ongoing investigation and follow-up.
Thom Senzee contributed to this report.