In a “Day of Action” on Oct 17, rallyists called for justice for Jennifer Laude and the abrogation of the Philippine-US defense agreements, and culminated with the formation of a network seeking justice for the slain Filipina transgender.
By ANNE EDNALYN DELA CRUZ
MANILA – Even as President Aquino has kept silent on the brutal slay of a Filipina transgender by a US Marine suspect, anti-imperialist activists continue to raise their voices, not just to punish the perpetrator, but to call for the abrogation of “pro-US” defense agreements, which brought him here in the first place.
In the latest among the daily protest actions, students, teachers, women and LGBT rights activists, and anti-crime advocates gathered in several points in Quezon City and Manila on Oct. 17, on what they called as “Day of Action for Justice for Jennifer Laude.”
“Justice for Jennifer is justice for all women, be that a man or a trans woman, because what happened to her is a form of violence against women. And because she is a citizen, we should call for justice for the nation,” said Center for Women’s Studies executive director Judy Taguiwalo during the launch of “Justice for Jennifer, Junk VFA Network” in Quezon City in the afternoon.
Taguiwalo, one of the many advocates and supporters who attended the launch, emphasized that the murder of Jennifer is a reflection of how the government protects the welfare of its citizens, especially women and the LGBT persons.
Laude, a 26-year-old Filipina transgender was found drowned in a toilet bowl on Oct. 11, 45 minutes after she checked in with US Marine Pvt. 1st Class Joseph Scott Pemberton at the Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City, Zambales. Pemberton was a participant in a recently concluded joint military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Pemberton remains under US custody at the USS Peleliu, and is yet to be presented to the public. The Olongapo City police and the Laude family, represented by lawyer Harry Roque, had filed a murder complaint against him on Oct. 14. The preliminary investigation is set on Oct. 21.
“The Aquino administration should ensure – at the very least, come out with a statement – that there will be justice for our kababayan (compatriot),” she said, “But it has been several days, and it has said nothing, not even a statement that ‘justice will be done.”
Aside from Taguiwalo, many other civil society groups, women’s organizations and people’s organizations have expressed dismay over the government’s slow action to resolve the case.
According to Alnie Foja, legal counsel of Gabriela, after the news broke out and the investigation started, the government should have already asserted jurisdiction.
“We need to hear from the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) Commission, and from the president that we are asserting our jurisdiction to the United States,” Foja explained.
Renato Reyes, secretary general of Bayan, meanwhile, explicated that this murder case is very much entwined with the issues surrounding the VFA and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca).
He said, “The VFA and Edca slow down the case, because with these agreements, government always have to consider whatever the US is scheming before it makes any move.”
“Because of VFA and EDCA, the government lost the power to resolve cases like this. We need to request for custody,” Reyes said, “The US government will take the request into full account. They will consider but they are in no obligation to approve the request.”
Reyes added that with EDCA and VFA, cases like this are only given a year to be heard and tried in court.
“If it goes beyond a year, the US is under no obligation to present the suspect in court. It’s difficult to attain justice under the VFA and Edca,” he said.
Gabriela Women’s Partylist Rep. Emmi De Jesus said that “the Supreme Court must make haste in declaring the EDCA unconstitutional. As long as EDCA and VFA are in effect, more incidents similar to Laude’s death will keep repeating.”
De Jesus also recalled the other cases that were brought about by the presence of US soldiers and the VFA.
“The murder of Jennifer Laude is not the first. There are other crimes committed by US soldiers under the VFA,” she explained.
De Jesus cited the rape of Nicole in 2005 by Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, the shooting of farmer Buyong-Buyong Isnijal in Tuburan, Basilan in 2002.
Meanwhile, other groups that committed to join the Justice crusade for Jennifer were: the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC), Kababaihan sa Sining at Bagong Sibol na Kamalayan (KASIBULAN), Congress of Teachers/Educators for Nationalism and Democracy (CONTEND), National Union of Students in the Philippines (NUSP), College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP), among others.
The “Day of Action” took off before noon with the burning of a mock US flag at the AS steps in the University of the Philippines, Diliman, “in symbolic protest the unequal relations between the U.S. and Philippines. Students led by the League of Filipino Students (LFS) were joined by concerned UP faculty and staff.
“Today’s series of actions signifies our call to immediately deliver justice for Jennifer Laude. We condemn the persistent defense to VFA and EDCA by the Aquino administration because it delays and hinders the progress of this case,” said LFS national spokesperson Charlotte Velasco.
Velasco said that Laude’s killing “should be a basis in reviewing the current relations between the U.S. and the Philippines.”
Velasco said that “justice will only be served to Laude and all other victims of U.S. troops if we can assert our own sovereignty through the abrogation of VFA and EDCA.”
In the early afternoon, in Manila, faculty and students marched from the University of the Philippines-Manila along Padre Faura avenue, to the US embassy along Roxas Blvd. to call for Pemberton’s transfer of custody to Philippine authorities.
Pemberton remains under US custody at the USS Peleliu, and is yet to be presented to the public. The Olongapo City police and the Laude family represented by lawyer Harry Roque had filed a murder complaint against him on Oct. 14. The preliminary investigation is set on Oct. 21.
Later in the afternoon, students lit candles and held a noise protest in front of the University of Sto. Tomas, along España avenue.
The group Kabataang Artista para sa Tunay na Kalayaan (KARATULA), who were at España, said the defense agreements like the VFA has perpetuated a “culture of violence.”
“The American military is not only impinging on our sovereignty but also endangering the lives of Filipinos with their military exercises; even going so far as to perpetrate a murderous hate crime,” said Karatula spokesperson Jay Del Rosario.
“The VFA is a platform for proliferating a macho-chauvinist culture imported straight from the USA. This tragedy is also a greater indication that continuing the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement will only result in more of the same. That is one of the worst things the Aquino government can do to the family of Jennifer,” he said.
“During the pre-colonial era, Filipino culture was more accommodating to the issue of gender in a sense. The foreign policy through the years on the other hand has reflected this colonial influence and has mainly been negative. Our call for justice is directly related to the defense of our sovereignty and LGBT rights,” Del Rosario said.