A US Marine stationed in the Philippines has admitted that he choked to death a Filipina transgender inside a motel north of the capital Manila, in a case that reignited tensions about the presence of American troops in the country.

Joseph Scott Pemberton made the admission on Monday during the hearing on Jennifer Laude's murder in Olongapo City, just outside the former US naval base in Subic, according to local news reports.

According to the reports, the American serviceman confessed to choking and dragging the victim after discovering that Laude was not biologically female.


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Harry Roque, lawyer of the victim, also posted on Twitter that the accused testified that "he restrained Jennifer through an 'arm lock' until she stopped moving".

Roque said that Pemberton invoked self-defence and told the court he feared that he would be raped.

A Filipino investigator had testified last May that the victim died due to strangulation and asphyxia by drowning.

Last Tuesday, Pemberton's mother Lisa also appeared in court to assert to her son's "good character", and to say that he did not discriminate against gay people.   

The accused has been detained at a military camp in Manila pending the resolution of his case.

Pemberton had been taking part in joint US-Philippine military exercises in October 2014 when the incident took place.

The case has gained international attention as the Philippines and the US seek closer military ties to counter China's territorial claims and expansion in the South China Sea.

Philippines defence pact boosts US influence

Following the incident, the US was forced to temporarily cancel port visits of nine warships in the Philippines.

Filipino activists have questioned the legality of the presence of US troops in the country.

The murder case also put pressure on the government of President Benigno Aquino III to renegotiate the US-Philippine Visiting Forces Agreement.

Manila and Washington signed the enhanced defence cooperation pact in April 2014 during the Philippine visit of President Barack Obama.

The agreement allows US forces a greater and sustained presence in the Philippines for maritime security and disaster and humanitarian operations.

Source: Al Jazeera