Philippines subpoenas US Marine accused of killing Filipino in case likely to test ties

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MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government served a subpoena Friday for a U.S. Marine accused of killing a transgender Filipino in an emotional case expected to test the country's military ties with the United States.

The Department of Foreign Affairs said subpoenas for Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton and four other U.S. Marines sought as witnesses in the case were delivered to the U.S. Embassy.

On Wednesday, police filed a murder complaint with prosecutors against Pemberton, who allegedly checked into a motel on Saturday with the victim, Jennifer Laude, after meeting her in a bar in Olongapo, northwest of Manila. Police said Laude, whose former name was Jeffrey, was found with her head resting on the motel room's toilet bowl, apparently after being drowned.

The department said in a statement that a preliminary investigation into the criminal complaint will start Tuesday. Prosecutors will then decide if formal charges will be filed in court.

Pemberton took part in combat exercises involving thousands of American and Filipino troops. He is being held on the USS Peleliu in the Subic Bay free port, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Manila, according to U.S. military officials.

A number of witnesses told investigators they saw Laude and Pemberton at the bar and at the motel, where the Marine was seen leaving shortly before the victim was found dead, police Chief Inspector Gil Domingo said earlier.

Police suspect Pemberton may have been angered when he discovered in the motel room that Laude was a transgender individual or because of an argument sparked by other reasons.

Activists have held almost daily protests demanding that the U.S. hand over Pemberton to Philippine authorities and calling for the abolition of the Visiting Forces Agreement. The agreement allows U.S. forces to join large-scale combat exercises with Filipino troops and permits the U.S. to take custody of its soldiers who run afoul of Philippine laws.

The murder case emerged as security ties were blossoming between the United States and the Philippines. The longtime military allies signed a new accord in April that allows greater U.S. military access to Philippine military camps, and both countries have been vocal critics of China's expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea.

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