MANILA (Reuters) - The United States embassy in Manila has turned down a request from Philippine authorities to hand over a Marine accused of the killing of a transgender Filipino, a move that could spark anti-American protest in the former U.S. colony.
The Marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton, who is being held at a U.S. facility at the main Philippine army base, was charged with the murder of Jeffrey Laude, who was found dead on Oct. 11 in a hotel in Olongapo City, northwest of the capital.
"The United States will retain custody of Pemberton as provided by the United States-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)," the embassy said in a statement on Wednesday.
"The United States has the right to retain custody of a suspect from the commission of the alleged offense until completion of all judicial proceedings."
Manila and Washington signed the Visiting Forces Agreement in 1998, to allow U.S. forces to hold military drills in the Philippines to test the readiness of the allies, and the pact sets legal rules on how to treat erring servicemen.
The Philippines formally sought custody of Pemberton in a letter from the foreign ministry to the U.S. embassy after his arrest was ordered by the Olongapo City trial court on Monday.
"There was a warrant of arrest issued by the court," presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda told reporters in the Philippine capital. "We have to enforce the warrant."
In a statement, the foreign ministry said, "In accordance with the Visiting Forces Agreement, we look forward to the full cooperation of the U.S. government in ensuring that justice is secured for Jeffrey Laude."
Anti-U.S. activists urged the government to terminate its pact with Washington after failing to enforce its sovereignty.
"The U.S. embassy refusal to turn over Pemberton is an insult to our nation and our people," said Renato Reyes, leader of the left-wing Nation movement, vowing to hold a protest outside the U.S. embassy.
"The Aquino government must terminate the VFA."
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago said the American authorities should hand over the U.S. marine and transfer him from detention in a U.S. facility to a Philippine jail.
Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Clarence Fernandez