The death of a Filipina transgender woman in an Olongapo City motel, allegedly at the hands of a US marine has unleashed a flood of outrage and raised questions as to the benefits of US-Philippine military agreements such as the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) to the country.
According to reports, Jennifer Laude died of drowning and there are signs that her face was pushed down the toilet bowl, leaving injuries and lacerations on her head and neck. Her lifeless body was found 11:30 p.m. in the evening of October 11, less than an hour after she stepped out of a disco bar and checked in the motel just across the street with a US serviceman.
Kapederasyon, a sectoral organization of lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders in the Philippines, condemned the Laude's killing and expressed alarm that the crime was purportedly elicited by the victim’s gender:
Hate crimes have been a persistent nightmare of the LGBT sector. Every day, hundreds of our kapederasyon are subjected to hate speech, discrimination, and violence. We are victimized physically, emotionally, and psychologically amidst the backdrop of the prevailing patriarchal and “macho” culture.
PFC Joseph Scott Pemberton, the US marine suspected of killing Laude, is one of over 3,000 US troops who are in the Philippines as part of the Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX). The American soldiers were on board the USS Peleliu and the USS Germantown, which docked in the country last month.
Laude’s sister Marilou Laude is demanding that the US ships, which are on port call in Subic Bay after the naval exercises, be prevented from leaving in order to make possible the unhindered investigation into the murder.
Pemberton is said to be detained aboard the USS Peleliu. According to the local police, the VFA has limited their authority in carrying out investigation of US servicemen involved in crimes. The US Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) is said to be investigating the crime.
Under the VFA, custody over US troops charged with violating Philippine laws “shall immediately reside with US military authorities.” However, the Philippine government may request for a handover of custody of the suspected US serviceman in its favor.
Veteran journalist Ellen Torsedillas writes that US custody over Pemberton denigrates Philippine sovereignty:
The DFA [Department of Foreign Affairs] and the AFP [Armed Forces of the Philippines] chief’s subservient stance on U.S. custody over Pemberton denigrates Philippine sovereignty – the supreme right of the state to command obedience within its territory.
With a diminished sovereignty, what does that make of the Philippines?
In a Facebook status, professor Judy Taguiwalo, former University of the Philippines faculty regent and women rights activist, compared the country’s situation to the days when the US military bases in Subic and Clark were still intact before their withdrawal in 1991:
Nothing has changed since American soldiers killed Filipinos and considered them wild pigs so powerfully depicted in Nora Aunor's film “Minsa'y Isang Gamu-Gamo” [Once a Moth]. The sorry excuse that is the so-called Philippine government instead of asserting our right to have custody of the Marine who violated our kabaro and our laws justifies the continued custody of the suspect by the Americans !
The blog Jumping Jolens also compared Laude's killing to the rape case of a Filipina woman involving US serviceman Daniel Smith ten years ago:
It was Gloria Arroyo [former president of the Philippines 2001-2010] leading the Malacañang [presidential palace] at that time, and [she] turned over Smith’s custody to the Americans. Now we have BS Aquino who’s much less ballsy than Arroyo. I don’t think he’d even try to assert our right to the custody of whoever killed Jennifer, much less fight tooth and nail to convict him. No Filipino leader in my lifetime has ever been bold enough to kick Uncle Sam’s ass — all they do is kiss it.
Filipino activists condemned the Philippine government for refusing to assert jurisdiction over Laude’s murder case. In a fiery rally at the US embassy, protesters called for the junking of the VFA, EDCA, and other military agreements which they say will only lead to the rise of crimes committed by US troops in the country.