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Young Star

The chilling effects of Jennifer Laude’s death

IN A NUTSHELL - Samantha King - The Philippine Star

In which the gender discrimination — by the government, media, and the public — of trans-woman Jennifer Laude might just be as gruesome a crime as her murder.

It’s no coincidence that the fire and brimstone over Jennifer Laude’s murder is inextricably linked to three things. One, the fact that she’s a transgender; two, the fact that the suspect is a greenhorn US serviceman; and three, the fact that she was drowned in the toilet of a motel room, battered and bruised, under circumstances that can only read: hate crime.

Unfortunately, our political and legal mechanisms seem unable to squarely address the various issues arising from Jennifer’s death, and the situation is terrifying.

It’s terrifying because her murder has managed to fracture the country into even more splintered groups. All issues divide us, sure, but Jennifer’s death has managed to ground the remaining splinters of unity we have left, into nothing but dust. People argue whether it’s the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) where the blame ultimately lies, or whether Jennifer, like “Nicole” in the Subic rape case before her, was simply asking for it. Local dailies have issued statements expressing their sympathy for the Laudes, while in the same breath saying that the US presence here continues to be a welcome source of security and economy. Over protests that the custody of Joseph Scott Pemberton should be with the Philippine government, others say that the US has thrown a bone in even allowing Pemberton to be transferred to Camp Aguinaldo, and that we shouldn’t bite the hand that feeds us.

It’s terrifying because even with the growing acceptance of LGBTs, discrimination against them abounds. Their very existence in a sexist world is always a struggle. This political incorrectness is highlighted by an unenlightened media, who, for the most part, insist on living inside a bubble of outdated, gender-allergic norms. Plenty of news articles are adamant that “Jennifer” is just an alias; that her real name is Jeffrey; that she is a he, and that Jeffrey may be acknowledged or referred to as “Jennifer.” At the heart of it, Jennifer chose to be called a woman. Her name is her identity, and no abstract system of civil registration should be able to take that away from her.

It’s terrifying because the crime was fueled by bias. As a law student, I’ve learned to become very careful with terms, like the use of the word “motive.” Despite what legal dramas tell you, motive is generally not an essential element of any crime, even murder. It is simply the driving force which impels one to action, your reason for doing the deed. When a suspect has been positively identified, then motive becomes irrelevant; there’s no need to go into the why behind it all. What’s important is the intent to kill — to use a particular means to achieve such a result. In hate crimes, however, one can argue that the motive is the message. And in this case, under these specific circumstances, how can Pemberton’s actions be interpreted as anything but fueled by prejudice and superiority?

It’s terrifying because this isn’t the first time Filipinos have been the victims of their own treaties, pieces of paper signed and executed in blood. In 1987, a US serviceman stationed in Subic was accused of raping 12-year-old Rosario Baluyot. He was summarily whisked out of the country to avoid prosecution. According to human rights watchdog Karapatan, the child died from sepsis because parts of a vibrator that was inserted in her vagina remained stuck for seven months. In 2005, the rape of “Nicole” by US Marine Daniel Smith was the first case where a member of the US military was tried, convicted, and sentenced for a crime in Philippine territory. However, the local court ruling on the case was overturned in 2006, when Smith was secretly transferred from the Makati City Jail to the US Embassy, and when Nicole subsequently recanted her testimony.

It’s terrifying because the power-relations are so clearly outlined, and yet we choose to remain powerless. The skewed provisions of the VFA all but intrude on our sovereignty, acting as semantics which befuddle everyone. Will the ordinary layperson understand what it means for Pemberton to ultimately be under US custody, even if he remains in control of the Philippines?

It’s terrifying that our own president appeals to the public to look at the “big picture,” which is limited to his own narrow perceptions of US-Philippine relations. The bigger picture, really, is how the US needs us to maintain control over this side of the Pacific. Our location, as it has always been for centuries, is ideal as a checkpoint, a base from which to expand into the rest of maritime Asia.

* * *

The enormity of what Jennifer’s death represents has not been lost on the Filipino public. People are grieving, disappointed, and above all, angry. There is nothing more tragic than to be victimized because of one’s gender identity, a chosen sexual orientation. That right to self-determination, as fundamental to people as the right to be secure in the privacy of their own homes, is what constitutes a person.  Let the law sit as an impartial judge to Pemberton’s guilt or innocence, to the motive behind his actions. In the eyes of the public, Jennifer was killed because of who she was, and that makes her twice condemned.

 

CAMP AGUINALDO JEFFREY JENNIFER JENNIFER LAUDE JOSEPH SCOTT PEMBERTON MAKATI CITY JAIL MARINE DANIEL SMITH PEMBERTON ROSARIO BALUYOT SUBIC
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