By JIM GOMEZ
MANILA, Philippines — Dozens of activists burned a mock U.S. flag as they protested at the U.S. Embassy in Manila on Tuesday, demanding that Washington hand over to the Philippines a U.S. Marine suspected in the killing of a transgender Filipino that the demonstrators labeled a hate crime.
Jennifer Laude, 26, was found dead, apparently strangled and drowned, beside a toilet bowl in a motel room in Olongapo city, northwest of Manila, shortly after she checked in late Saturday, allegedly with a Marine.
Police said they have identified the Marine suspect with the help of a key witness. Authorities will file a murder complaint against him with prosecutors on Wednesday, national police spokesman Wilben Mayor said.
U.S. Marine spokesman Col. Brad Bartelt said a Marine was being held on board the USS Peleliu in the Subic Bay free port, about 80 kilometers (50 miles) northwest of Manila, in connection with a joint U.S. Navy and Philippine police investigation into Laude’s death.
About 3,000 U.S. Marines and Navy sailors concluded two weeks of military exercises with Filipino counterparts last Friday and were to leave the Philippines this week.
U.S. Pacific commander Adm. Samuel Locklear, who was in Manila for annual security talks with Philippine defense officials, initially ordered the Peleliu and other Navy ships to stay in the Philippines pending an investigation into the killing. All the ships except the Peleliu were later cleared to leave the country as the investigation progressed, according to Philippine officials.
The thorny issue emerged amid a blossoming of security ties between the United States and the Philippines, which have both been vocal critics of China’s expansive territorial claims in the South China Sea. The longtime military allies signed a new accord in April that allows greater U.S. military access to Philippine military camps across the country.
Military chief of staff Gen. Gregorio Pio Catapang said the incident destroyed the positive image of the just-concluded military exercise, in which the suspect in the killing took part, but added that “this will not affect our relationship with the United States.”
“We’re alarmed and hurt because the victim was a fellow Filipino,” Catapang told a news conference. “We have to give justice for [her] untimely death.”
Police said Laude’s attacker 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.
On Tuesday, about 40 young activists waved red flags and yelled “U.S. troops out now” in a protest that ended with the burning of a mock American flag at the heavily secured U.S. Embassy. Riot police stopped them from getting close to the seaside compound.
Two protest leaders tearfully demanded that the U.S. military hand over the Marine to the Philippine government, saying he should be detained in a local jail.
“This is just so abominable. It’s one of the worst hate crimes I’ve seen,” said Corky Hope Maranan, a leader of a group of transgender and lesbian Filipinos.
“If he remains in U.S. custody, certainly he can escape from our justice system again. We don’t want another Daniel Smith,” Maranan said.
Smith was a Marine who was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison on charges of raping a Filipino woman after a night of drinking in 2005, also at the Subic free port. A Philippine appeals court overturned Smith’s conviction in 2009, allowing him to leave the country.