By: Our Correspondent

US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, who drowned a Filipino transgender in an Olongapo motel toilet in October of 2014 and generated international tensions over a visiting forces agreement between the United States and the Philippines, was judged guilty “beyond reasonable doubt” of homicide on Dec. 1.

Pemberton, then 19, picked up the 26-year-old transgender Jefferey “Jennifer” Laude at the Ambyanz disco under the apparent impression that he was picking up a woman. About half an hour after he had put up at the nearby Celzone Lodge, witnesses saw Pemberton run out of the motel, leaving the door ajar.

Shortly afterwards, Laude was found naked, propped up by the toilet. Her head apparently had been stuck in the toilet.  Mark Clarence Gelviro, another transgender, said Pemberton was drunk but friendly and “thought we were real women.” 

Olongapo, a seamy bar town, is next to Subic Bay, the port where American military ships dock. Subic had been a US Navy port for nearly a century before relations soured. The US and Manila were working on rebuilding a relationship that was ruptured in 1991 when the US pulled its bases out of the country rather than submit to a list of demands from the Philippine government. That process is continuing. In April of 2014, the two countries agreed to expanded military cooperation, with increased presence of US forces on a rotating basis. 

Leftist and nationalist opponents contesting the agreement between the two countries have challenged the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, or EDCA, as it is known, to the Supreme Court, where it has languished for months.    What is regarded as the leniency of the sentence, a prison term of six to 12 years and an order to pay damages to the Laude family of PHP4.6 million (US$100,000), are expected to generate more protest.

Had Pemberton been found guilty of murder he could have faced a sentence of 40 years to life imprisonment. The court, however, said the prosecution failed to establish aggravating circumstances of treachery and abuse of superior strength that would have subjected him to a murder charge. Pemberton, in a previous court appearance, acknowledged choking Laude unconscious when he discovered she was a transgender.

The court said that when Pemberton met Laude, dressed as a schoolgirl and offering sex, he immediately agreed. While inside the motel, he got excited but “felt something different, something that was not supposed to be there and realized that (Laude) was a dude.”

“He was enraged and in the heat of passion he arm-locked and dragged him [Laude] inside the bathroom and dunked his head in the toilet bowl,” the court said, noting all that happened immediately after he discovered that Laude was a man.