Times have changed

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

The killing of Jeffrey Laude by accused US Marine Joseph Pemberton threw me off my seat. I was trying to analyze who the victim and the criminal is, in this case. The law clearly sees Pemberton as the alleged criminal but strong issues on morality have cropped up.

Times have changed. Society is slowly opening up to gays, lesbians, transgenders, etc.  We have learned to accept people for who they choose to be. We have conditioned ourselves to respect individual differences. However, there are still people in society who choose not to associate themselves with such groups but that’s okay, to each his own.

Our norms and mores too, have changed. This is the 21st century, we are in the century of the third millennium and here we are finding ourselves at the crossroads of some sort. But life goes on and at the end of the day all we want to achieve is peace, harmony and of course justice.

The problem begins when transgenders truly believe in their hearts that they are really “men” or “women”. When they mingle with the opposite sex and pretend to be who they are not, then a problem erupts. The US Marine may have felt violated and raped not knowing that he was with a transgender. How would he have known unless he was properly informed? Many transgenders I know are beautiful and sexy – indeed very attractive. Was Jeffrey morally obligated to have informed Pemberton that he was a transgender? If people are expected to respect each other for their sexual preferences shouldn’t they learn to be more truthful in this modern age? This case should awaken us to the reality of the times.

The truth of the matter is that many foreigners who visit our shores look forward to meeting beautiful Filipina women. I guess they have to be more cautious nowadays because not everything they see is what it seems in this seemingly mysterious paradise.

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It’s sad that we give so much attention to this case when there are more major concerns where many victims are found and no news is brought out about them. Human trafficking is a very serious problem in this country but our President chooses to keep mum about it. There are other cases of pedophilia and serial killings happening around the country but the government has not done any major action on such problems. Why are we giving too much attention to this case? Is it because we have anti-Americans who choose to use it to demolish the VFA program? What happened was a result of an action committed by two people where a common struggle between what is moral and lawful has become an issue.

Anyway with regard to the VFA and the custody issue, US Ambassador Philip Goldberg said that by keeping Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton under its custody, the US is strictly following the VFA. Other parties may raise their eyebrows on his statement while others may disapprove such arrangements. Let’s just hope our government officials take the lead to straighten things up and improve the implementing rules of the VFA, if needed.

In the Daniel Smith-Nicole case in 2006, the US Embassy claimed that custody resides with US authorities under paragraph 6 of Article V of the VFA, which reads: “The custody of any United States personnel over whom the Philippines is to exercise jurisdiction shall immediately reside with United States military authorities, if they so request, from the commission of the offense until completion of all judicial proceedings…. In extraordinary cases, the Philippine Government shall present its position to the United States Government regarding custody, which the United States Government shall take into full account.”

Other related paragraphs of Article V, specifically paragraph 4 states that: the authorities of the Philippines and the United States shall assist each other in the arrest of United States personnel in the Philippines and in handing them over to authorities who are to exercise jurisdiction in accordance with the provisions of this article; while paragraphs 9 and 10 contemplate United States personnel being detained, taken into custody and prosecuted by Philippine authorities, so much so that they are accorded rights such as confinement in agreed facilities, visits and material assistance by US authorities, among others.

According to Atty. Evalyn G. Ursua, former counsel for “Nicole” in the case against Smith, the unending controversy over the issue of custody speaks of a flaw in the language of Article V, paragraph 6, which has been interpreted in conflicting ways. The US has consistently cited this paragraph as giving it custody over any accused US serviceman until all court proceedings are completed, including appeal. On its face, without a careful and integrated reading of Article V and reviewing the history of its paragraph 6 including the legal documents related to it, Article V, paragraph 6 can be quite ambiguous, it needs clarification and or strengthening.

The transfer of Pemberton to Camp Aguinaldo, no matter how inconsequential the move is, still shows that the US has finally paid attention to our sensitivities. So, let the law take its course.

Apart from all this fuss about the VFA provisions, there is to me a more important aspect of this case: a realization that our criminal law and jail system sucks (although I already knew that before). And this is why I feel the US government can’t just let go. America simply wants to make sure citizens are handled properly (and in a humane environment) even if accused of murder. Our American counterparts know the conditions in this country. They know our ways, our culture, and our corrupt practices.

Let’s level up and deal with this issue in a more objective and civilized way. Let’s not be too barbaric and archaic. As we scrutinize the Americans, let’s also be mindful of our own behavior.

The Roots of Violence: Wealth without work, Pleasure without conscience, Knowledge without character, Commerce without morality, Science without humanity, Worship without sacrifice, Politics without principles. – Mahatma Gandhi


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