Jennifer Laude, hate crimes, and the ‘big picture’

Vantage Point | BusinessWorld

Olongapo City prosecutor Emilie Fe de los Santos declared the other day during the preliminary investigation of the murder charge against Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton of the United States Marine Corps that “there is no gender issue” involved in the killing of Jennifer Laude. “The issue,” she said, is simply that “someone got killed.”

Was de los Santos saying that Jennifer Laude would have been killed anyway even if she was born a woman, and that her being a transgender is immaterial to the question of motive? Isn’t motive a fundamental issue in establishing the guilt or innocence of anyone accused of a crime?

The Olongapo police autopsy report found that Laude was beaten severely before she was drowned in the toilet bowl of the motel room where she was found — and that she had contusions and blood clots on the scalp, chest, arms and legs, in addition to a cut in her tongue and bruises around her eyes and cheekbones.

Laude’s injuries indicate that they were inflicted in a fit of fury; the lead police investigator in fact described the crime as “a crime of hatred” (sic) brought about by the perpetrator’s discovery that “his sex partner was a gay” (sic).

If it was a hate crime provoked by the perpetrator’s discovery that Laude was not biologically a woman and was a transgender (“transgender” being the appropriate term rather than the press’ insistence on referring to Laude as a “transgender woman”), isn’t gender then at the very heart of the question of why she was killed and who had the motive to kill her?

If the Olongapo City Prosecutor’s dismissal of gender as at issue in the murder of Laude was at the very least strange, which at worst undermines whatever case she’s putting together, the statement of Benigno Aquino III the day before was specially ironic.

Aquino declared that there is no need to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), the priority of the hour being to “give Laude justice.” Along the way, Aquino also said that crimes occur anywhere, and that “the sin of one person” should not reflect on “the entire country,” by which, oddly enough, he seemed to be referring to the Philippines.

Has anyone ever said that crime doesn’t happen in this country? It does, and in numbers so numerous most people assume murders, kidnappings, holdups and rapes to be part of daily existence. As for the implication that the killing of Laude reflects on the country, whoever said it does?

At any rate, Aquino’s declaration that the focus should be to give Laude justice is valid enough. But doesn’t her getting justice depend on whether, in the first place, the accused killer would even show up? Although served a subpoena, Pemberton did not appear at the prosecutor’s office. This fueled suspicions that he’s either out of the country or that the US, despite a pledge to cooperate and despite VFA provisions to the contrary, isn’t about to concede jurisdiction over one of its Marines to a Third World justice system.

The VFA also has a provision which declares that the Philippines can have custody of any US serviceman accused of a crime on Philippine soil only with US consent. Philippine government officials — among them a congressman — are not even inclined to demand custody, to the extent of even preempting US objections by announcing for all the world to hear that Philippine detention facilities are unacceptable to the “high standards” of US prisons.

The same argument was in fact raised in behalf of the US by the Philippines’ Department of Justice in the 2005 Subic rape case when the DOJ even collaborated with the US Embassy in spiriting Lance Corporal Daniel Smith out of his Makati detention cell to embassy premises. With officials like these, does any case involving US servicemen stand even a ghost of a chance of resulting in “giving justice” to the victims?

But never mind. Some Filipinos — not government officials — have argued that a hate crime is a hate crime, and that, indeed, Laude could very well have been killed by a Filipino homophobe as much as by a US serviceman.

Some LGBT (lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender) groups have expressed alarm over what they say is an increase in hate crimes committed by other Filipinos against members of their community, but the numbers seem to be based on anecdotal rather than scientific evidence. Although this claim may be valid because crimes against members of the LGBT community are not categorized as hate crimes or as crimes unrelated to gender, on the other hand similar anecdotal evidence suggests rising levels of tolerance, except for the occasional anti-gay jibe or the presence in local languages of pejorative terms for lesbians and gay men.

Meanwhile, hate crimes including beatings and murders against gays and transgenders occur in disturbing numbers in the United States. The US Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Hate Crime Statistics Report, for example, found that out of a total of 8,152 hate crimes reported in 2013, bias against sexual orientation accounted for 1,330, or 16%.

Of similar interest is a US Department of Defense (DOD) study that found a 50% increase in 2013 over those of 2012 in the reports of rapes and sexual assaults in the US military. In 2012, a DOD survey estimated that 26,000 men and women were sexually assaulted in various branches of the US armed services. Of those, 3,374 cases were reported, while 5,061 cases were reported in 2013.

The US is currently engaged in an attempt to reconquer what it has lost in the world, and to conquer the rest, which is why it has refocused its military energies in Asia. That is the “big picture” of which the presence of US troops in the Philippines is a small part.

The above figures raise at least two questions. First, is bias against sexual orientation part of the cultural baggage some US servicemen carry with them as they are deployed by the empire across the planet, including the Philippines? Second, is that bias reinforced by the veritable subculture of sexual assaults in the US military?

If the answer is yes, or even “probably,” that means that the return of US troops to the Philippines, as sanctioned by the VFA and as further strengthened by the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), is a volatile ingredient that, stirred into the boost in the sex industries these troops’ presence makes inevitable, could lead to rapes as well as hate and other crimes. Is this risk to Filipino lives and fortunes outweighed by considerations of what Aquino says is “the big picture,” which Aquino limits to his own narrow perceptions of US-Philippine relations and ignores the really big picture of the US focus on total dominance over the entire planet?

Luis V. Teodoro is the deputy director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

Twitter: @luisteodoro

Published in Business World
October 23, 2014

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