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(Updated 11:23 a.m.) US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton should personally appear in the preliminary investigation on the killing of transgender woman Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude.
This was the statement issued by Justice Secretary Leila de Lima following a pronouncement from the US Embassy that Pemberton, accused of killing the 26-year-old Laude in Olongapo, may or may not appear in the scheduled preliminary probe on Tuesday, depending on the advice of his Filipino lawyer, Benjamin Tolosa Jr of the Angara Abello Concepcion Regala & Cruz Law (ACCRA).
"Ang usual process sa preliminary investigation, ini-insist namin ang personal appearance lalo na if hearing is submission of counter-affidavit," said De Lima on Monday.
"We see no reason why magiging exception iyan sa rule or sa general rule on personal appearance," she added.
Pemberton was summoned last week by the Olongapo City Prosecutor's Office to a preliminary investigation on Laude's killing.
De Lima said there had been instances in the past when a respondent had opted not to appear in a preliminary investigation and would just submit a counter-affidavit that he had subscribed to before a notary public.
"Pero ang alam ko, hindi iyan basta-basta pinapayagan unless may compelling reason bakit ayaw humarap," said De Lima, adding there there seemed to be no reason why Pemberton should not appear before the city prosecutor of Olongapo.
De Lima also said insisting on Pemberton's appearance would show the government is not extending special treatment to the US serviceman or having a "soft stance" on the slay case.
De Lima reminded Pemberton that if he chooses not to appear before the rposecutor and submit his counter-affidavit, his right to respond to the murder charge would be deemed to have been waived.
"Kung mag-i-insist ang prosecutor na mag-appear personally si Pemberton, hindi basta-basta tatanggapin iyong counter-affidavit nang hindi in-affirm na sworn to or subscribed himself," said the justice secretary.
De Lima also reiterated the US government's pronouncement that it would make Pemberton available to all processes and proceedings.
"Even if ginagarantiya iyan, diskarte ng abogado niya.... [pero] hindi iyan aalis basta-basta. Ginagalang nila ang mga batas natin at proseso," said De Lima.
In a statement, the embassy said the US continues to fully cooperate and collaborate with Philippine authorities in all aspects of the case.
"Whether the suspect will appear on Tuesday is a decision that he will make in consultation with his Philippine legal counsel, in accordance with Philippine law. We refer you to his counsel for details," it said.
On the other hand, it said the witnesses will not appear on Tuesday, "as they have already met their current legal obligations."
The embassy added, however, that in accordance with the Visiting Forces Agreement, the witnesses will be made available for the trial.
The embassy said city prosecutors met last week with four witnesses and swore them to their statements in accordance with Philippine law.
It said this satisfied the requirements of the City Prosecutor and the "make available" language of the RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement.
De Lima said the Olongapo City Prosecutor's Office has also already given a commitment to expedite the preliminary investigation.
"Ang guidance ko sa kanila, do not allow dilatory maneuvers. Huwag pagbibigyan ang unreasonable reason for postponement," De Lima said.
Laude was found dead inside a motel's comfort room. An autopsy report indicated that she drowned after her face was pushed into the toilet bowl. The report also showed that she suffered multiple bruises and abrasions. — Joel Locsin/RSJ/KG, GMA News