By BENJIE OLIVEROS
Two names have become inextricably linked – Jennifer Laude and US Marine Pvt. 1st Class Joseph Scott Pemberton – on that fateful day of Oct. 11. Jennifer was found dead in a hotel in Olongapo City, Zambales, her head submerged in a toilet and her body bore torture marks. Jennifer was last seen with Pemberton who was recorded by a CCTV camera casually walking out of the hotel room where she was found dead.
One would think that the victim Jennifer and her family would get better treatment than the suspect Pemberton. But that would be the case if the two have equal status in life. In this case, it is not.
Pemberton was flown in a convoy of two Huey helicopters, accompanied by US and Filipino officials, from the USS Peleliu in Subic Bay, Zambales and brought to a facility of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB) inside Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
A video footage showed a soldier being kept away from the prying eyes of the media and the public and was being escorted to an air-conditioned van in the facility. Reports said that six soldiers – two US soldiers and four Filipino military police (MP) – are guarding him. One US soldier is reportedly staying with him inside the van while the other is outside. Two Filipino military police stand guard outside the inner gate and two outside the perimeter fence.
Nobody, not even the highest Filipino military or civilian official, could go near Pemberton without the expressed approval of US embassy officials. Obviously, the MDB-SEB facility is under the control of the US. So what is a US military facility doing inside the general headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP)?
With these arrangements, Pemberton appears to be under the protective custody of the US. This situation is highly irregular and makes one ask: Is he the victim or the suspect?
On the other hand, Jennifer Laude’s family is left to fend for themselves. They are not being assisted by any Philippine government official. President Benigno Aquino III, when asked by the media, said that he never intended to visit Jennifer’s wake nor the family because “he doesn’t know them personally.” (Did we get it right that he is the President of the country?)
Jennifer’s family had to ask for the assistance of volunteer lawyers. The Laude family and their lawyers could not even visit Pemberton, much less get a DNA specimen from him. Worse, Jennifer’s fiancée Marc Sueselbeck, a German, was barred from leaving the country pending completion of “deportation proceedings.” He is being charged for climbing the perimeter fence of the MDB-SEB facility to see if Pemberton is indeed being detained and pushing a Filipino MP in the process. The case was filed by the AFP. It also remains to be seen if the AFP and the government will make good its threat of likewise filing cases against Laude’s sister for also climbing the fence, and their lawyer Harry Roque for allegedly egging them to do so.
From the way her family is being treated, it seems that Jennifer is the suspected perpetrator and not the victim.
The US could not be faulted for taking care of its own, its soldier at that. But it should be faulted for disregarding Philippine laws and processes. Would it turn over custody of a foreign national who is suspected of murdering a US citizen in US soil?
The Aquino government is worse. Not only did it ignore and treat shabbily the family of its citizen who was murdered. It appears overly concerned with pleasing the US. President Benigno Aquino III and his foreign secretary Albert del Rosario have been defending the US for taking custody over Pemberton. They even imitate the language of the US of not referring to Pemberton as a suspect and the killing of Jennifer as a murder.
Monique Wilson is right in saying that Jennifer’s story is our story, in so many ways. Not only is Jennifer part of the ever-growing list of Filipinos who were victimized by US troops. Her story is symbolic of how the US has treated and regarded the country and the Filipino people: as its slaves to be exploited and killed at will.
She is also right in saying that the hope for justice of Jennifer Laude’s family lies in the Filipino people. After all, Jennifer’s fight for justice is our fight too.