“There will be rainbow protests of rage and indignation, if Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton flies home, scot-free.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Various groups commemorated the first year of the brutal slay of Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude on Oct. 11, and called on the Philippine court to convict sole suspect US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton.
From Oct. 9 to 11, progressive groups held separate mass actions in Metro Manila, from a candle-lighting gathering in Quezon City, a march to the US embassy, culminating in a gay pride protest in Makati City.
Beyond their demand to have Pemberton serve time in Philippine jail, the groups also called for the abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (Edca), without which, US troops like Pemberton would not even be in the country.
In September, the case was submitted for decision to Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde of branch 74 of the Olongapo City regional trial court. Under the VFA, the court is given one year to resolve the case, or on Dec. 14, after which the criminal charges expire and the accused goes free.
Laude, 26, was found dead slumped on a toilet bowl in Celzone hotel in Olongapo City, Zambales province, a few hours after walking in a room with Pemberton. Pemberton was a participant to the Philippine-US Amphibious Landing Exercises (Phiblex 14), and was on rest and recreation at the time of the crime.
“We expect no less than a guilty verdict for Pemberton,” said Aaron Bonnette, spokesperson of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) group called Bahaghari.
“He is clearly guilty of the crime. He must be convicted, and subsequently jailed in a Philippine facility,” Bonette said.
Pemberton admitted having strangled Laude after finding out that she was a transgender, but claimed he left her alive.
Gabriela Women’s Partylist (GWP) Rep. Emmi de Jesus criticized the statement as a “worn-out, gay panic defense” for hate crimes against gays.
Forensic pathologist Dr. Rachel Fortun testified as an expert witness for the defense, saying Laude died of asphyxia, or loss of oxygen, contradicting the finding of the police medico legal officer, Chief Inspector Reynaldo Dave, who conducted the autopsy and said the victim died of “asphyxiation by drowning,” because of the fluid found in her lungs.
Pemberton has been under American custody at a US facility detention inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.
Meanwhile, this year’s Phiblex again brought in 650 US troops of the 3rdMarine Expeditionary Brigade and the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, who trained with Philippine Marines and Navy Seabees. It was held from Sept. 21 to Oct. 9, in Palawan, Zambales and Cavite.
Bahaghari, the Filipino word for “rainbow,” led hundreds of LGBT carrying rainbow flags in the streets of Carmona village, Makati City, in a pride protest dubbed “Vaklash, the LGBTQ backlash against hate and injustice.”
Vaklash is coined from “vaklush,” a colloquial term for gay, and “backlash,” said Bonette.
Laude’s case has become a rallying cause for the LGBT community, which became more vocal about hate crimes and onerous defense agreements between the country and the US. In October last year, LGBT and women’s groups formed “Justice for Jennifer, Junk VFA.”
Bonette warned that Pemberton’s acquittal will set off “political and social backlash against the Aquino government.”
“There will be rainbow protests of rage and indignation if Pemberton flies home scot-free,” Bonette said.
“This is about us Filipinos standing up against moves of the United States to protect its interest. It is about us standing up for our sovereignty,” he said.
Inaction on anti-discrimination bill
The groups lamented that the public outcry on the apparent hate crime against a transgender was ignored by lawmakers.
House Bill 1842, which criminalizes social discrimination against the LGBT, is being discussed by a technical working group. The bill was co-authored by GWP representatives and Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Colmenares.
Gabriela Women’s Party second nominee Arlene Brosas expressed dismay that instead of putting the bill up as urgent, President Aquino chose “to ignore its existence.”
“No one deserves to be discriminated, hated, or violated against because of her sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or for any other reasons. Let’s make sure that there will not be one more Jennifer to fall victim to hate,” Brosas said.