Philippine Investigators Seeking Leads in Slaying of U.S. Serviceman
MANILA, Philippines (AP) _ Philippine investigators said Sunday they had no firm evidence linking Communist rebels to the slaying of U.S. Marine and were considering other motives for the killing near the Subic Bay naval base.
Gunnery Sgt. John Fredette, 34, of La Buena, Calif., was fatally wounded late Friday on a darkened street in Olongapo, the garrison town near the U.S.-run Subic Bay base, 50 miles west of Manila.
The killing led U.S. officials to cancel all off-post leaves and ban non- essential travel for the 40,000 troops, Defense Department civilian employees and dependents at the six U.S. bases in the Philippines.
In Manila, a spokesman for President Corazon Aquino expressed the government’s regret over the slaying and pledged that the Filipino military would take all necessary steps to protect Americans.
″We grieve with the family of Sgt. Fredette,″ said Deputy Presidential Press Secretary Horacio Paredes. ″The military authorities are taking whatever measures are necessary to assure the safety of American personnel in the bases.″
Fredette’s slaying follows a warning issued earlier this month by Philippine officials that the Marxist New People’s Army was planning to kill an American before the May 14 start of talks on extending the lease for the six U.S. bases.
Mrs. Aquino has refused to say whether she supports extending the lease, which expires in 1991. Leftists have called the bases an infringement on Filipino sovereignty.
No one has claimed responsibility for Fredette’s killing, but Olongapo police said on Saturday that they suspected Communist rebels. Fredette’s watch and wallet were not taken by the assailants, police said.
But on Sunday, Brig. Gen. Gerardo Flores, chief of staff of the national police, said there was no firm evidence that New People’s Army guerrillas were responsible for the slaying.
″The theory that Sgt. Fredette was killed by the New People’s Army is still inconclusive,″ Flores told reporters. ″Our investigators are zeroing in on other angles.″
Flores added that Fredette, who had been in the Philippines about a week on temporary assignment from El Toro, Calif., was shot with a .38-caliber pistol, while urban guerrillas normally use .45-caliber weapons in their attacks.
On Sunday, the Olongapo police were offering alternative theories.
Police said they were investigating a possibility that the killing may have been drug-related because Fredette had been seen hours earlier talking with some Filipinos who appeared to be high on drugs.
Another theory was that the killers may have confused Fredette for another American who lived near the scene of the shooting, police said.
Although police had questioned about 100 people, an investigator said there were still no firm leads.
″All we get are negative results, but troop operations are continuing,″ said police Sgt. Elmer de Loen. ″We are really having a hard time.″
The slaying and restrictions on off-base travel have hurt businesses catering to U.S. personnel near the bases.
Sources in Olongapo, requesting anonymity, suggested that police might be facing political pressure to avoid linking the slaying to the rebels so that the U.S. military will lift the restrictions, which threaten the local economy.
If the rebels were responsible, Fredette would be the sixth American slain by NPA guerrillas since April 1989, when Army Col. James ″Nick″ Rowe was assassinated in suburban Quezon City.
The first attack by Communist rebels on American troops was in April 1974 when three Navy officers were killed on the edge of the Subic base.