U.S. transfers Marine murder suspect to Philippine base

MANILA (Reuters) - The United States has transferred a Marine suspected of the murder of a transgender Filipino to a Philippine military base under U.S. guard, the head of the Philippine armed forces said, in line with a legal agreement between the two countries.

U.S. Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton is accused of murdering Jeffrey Laude, who also goes by the name Jennifer, in Olongapo City, about 50 km north of Manila.

General Gregorio Catapang told reporters Pemberton was flown to Camp Aguinaldo, the main military base in Manila.

"He was confined in a 20-foot air-conditioned van inside an U.S. military facility on our own base on Philippine soil," Catapang said. "He will be under 24-hour guard by an American soldier but we also have two Filipino soldiers in the facility."

Colonel Brad Bartelt, spokesman for the U.S. Marine Corps Forces, Pacific, said Pemberton would remain in U.S. custody in line with the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States.

"The suspect will remain in the Philippines during the investigation and any potential judicial proceedings in accordance with the VFA," he said in a statement.

The Philippines has said it expects to get custody of Pemberton once he is formally charged in court and any trial begins.

President Benigno Aquino described the transfer as a "healthy development".

"He is not being treated with kid gloves," Aquino told reporters, adding that the government was complying with the VFA.

Pemberton was transferred to Aguinaldo from USS Peleliu, an amphibious assault vessel, which has since been given permission to leave the Philippines.

(Reporting By Manuel Mogato, Additional reporting by David Alexander and Philip Stewart in WASHINGTON; Editing by Nick Macfie)