4 US witnesses in Olongapo slay leave Philippines
Camille Diola (The Philippine Star) - October 20, 2014 - 5:35pm

MANILA, Philippines — The four American witnesses to the killing of transgender Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude in Olongapo City have left the country, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Monday.

Foreign Affairs spokesperson Charles Jose said the information came from the United States Embassy in Manila. He denied that the DFA had any hand in their departure.

"DFA was not informed by the US side that the four witnesses were leaving the country. They are not required to do so," Jose said in a televised press briefing.

The four witnesses, reportedly members of US marines who joined bilateral exercises with the Philippine Navy, have given their sworn statements to the Olongapo City prosecutors' office where the murder complaint against their colleague, Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, was filed last week.

Jose said that the departure was not in violation of proceedings as they have "satisfied their legal requirements."

"The US has given assurance that they will make available witnesses at the trial," Jose said.

Pemberton was tagged as suspect by Laude's friend, identified only as "Barbie," who said he saw the two check in at Celzone Lodge before the victim was found lifeless in the motel room on October 11.

Groups calling for justice for the death of Laude demand that Pemberton be made to appear at the preliminary investigation on Tuesday before the city prosecutor, but the embassy said it has not yet determined whether the 19-year-old suspect will be made available.

"Whether the suspect will appear on Tuesday is a decision that the suspect will make in consultation with Philippine legal counsel, in accordance with Philippine law," the embassy said in a statement Sunday.

The DFA said, however, that Pemberton's appearance at the preliminary is "expected" on the basis of the Visiting Forces Agreement, which legally covers judicial cases involving US servicemen in Philippine soil.

"The [VFA] says US military authorities shall, upon formal notification of Filipino authorities and without delay, make such personnel available to those authorities in time for any investigative and judicial proceedings," Jose said.

The agency official warned that Pemberton's non-appearance will be unfavorable to him.

"If the prosecutor recommends the filing of murder charges against him, that’s his problem ... His legal adviser should advise him to appear," Jose said.

CELZONE LODGE CHARLES JOSE DEPARTMENT OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS FOREIGN AFFAIRS OLONGAPO CITY PEMBERTON PHILIPPINE NAVY PRIVATE FIRST CLASS JOSEPH SCOTT PEMBERTON UNITED STATES EMBASSY VISITING FORCES AGREEMENT
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