The Associated Press reported Emilie de los Santos of the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s Office told reporters there was “probable cause” to charge Marine Pfc. Joseph Pemberton with murdering Jennifer Laude in October.
Pemberton and Laude, 26, reportedly met at a local nightclub on Oct. 11 while the USS Peleliu was docked at the Subic Bay Freeport, which is adjacent to Olongapo City on the Philippines’ main island of Luzon. Laude’s naked body was later found in a motel bathroom.
“It’s murder,” de los Santos told reporters after he filed charges against Pemberton as the AP reported. “It was aggravated by treachery, abuse of superior strength and cruelty.”
Laude’s death sparked outrage among Philippine LGBT rights advocates. It also highlighted opposition to the U.S. military presence in the island archipelago.
“Jennifer has become our martyr, the symbol of our suffering as a community,” Angie Umbac, president of the Rainbow Rights Project, a Philippine LGBT advocacy group, told the Washington Blade in late October.
The Rainbow Rights Project and the Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines are among the dozen Philippine LGBT advocacy groups that described the indictment against Pemberton as “a welcome step in the quest for justice for Jennifer Laude.” They nevertheless stressed in their statement their activism on behalf of LGBT Filipinos will continue.
The groups stressed the case against Pemberton is a “litmus test” for the Philippine judicial system and “whether it can ensure fair, transparent and independent investigation and trial not just for Jennifer’s killing” but for other cases of anti-LGBT discrimination and violence in the country. They also highlighted insensitive media coverage surrounding Laude’s death that continues.
Philippine advocates continue to urge the country’s lawmakers to approve an LGBT-inclusive anti-discrimination measure that has languished in the country’s Congress for more than a decade.
“Through our grief, we, the members of the Filipino transgender, lesbian, bisexual, and gay community shall remain vigilant to ensure that Jennifer and her loved ones are not denied justice,” said the advocacy groups in their statement. “We shall also continue engaging the government to prevent similar injustices committed to other members of our community whose rights and dignity are and have been and will be violated because of how they identify and express themselves, who they choose to love, and for simply who they are.”
Marianne Møllman, director of programs for the International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission, told the Blade on Monday she hopes the case against Pemberton will proceed.
“At a minimum, the fact that prosecutors in the Philippines have brought a murder charge against the suspect, Joseph Pemberton, should be a positive step toward justice and accountability for this heinous crime,” she said. “But it isn’t clear at all whether the case will go forward with guaranteed due process and transparency, nor do we know whether an adequate police investigation was carried out.”
Pemberton is being held at a Philippine detention facility outside of Manila, the country’s capital. He remains in U.S. custody pending the outcome of his case.