The brutal murder of a Filipina transgender in an Olongapo City motel by American suspect Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton of the US Marines highlights the impunity with which violence against Lesbians, Gays, Bisexual, and Transgenders (LGBT) as well as women is perpetrated in the country.
Jennifer died of drowning from her face’s being pushed down the toilet bowl, leaving injuries and lacerations on her head and neck. Her lifeless body was found 11:30 PM in the evening of October 11, just a few minutes after she stepped out of a disco bar and checked in the motel just across the street with Pemberton.
Her life’s being made a plaything by an American soldier as part of his “rest and recreation” in the Philippines is a glaring reminder of the hate crimes, discrimination, and violence that LGBTs and women in the country are subjected to everyday.
Jennifer’s untimely death in the hands of a US marine also serves as the clearest illustration of the way US imperialism intensifies the gender oppression of LGBTs and women wherever it spreads its tentacles.
Cases of sexual exploitation and violence are sure to rise with the coming of more US troops in Philippine soil under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA).
Pemberton is one of over 3,000 US troops who are in the Philippines as part of the Philippine Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX). The American soldiers were on board the USS Peleliu and the USS Germantown which docked in the country last month.
It is a mark of the lopsidedness of the VFA that custody over US troops charged with violating Philippine laws “shall immediately reside with US military authorities.” Pemberton is said to be detained aboard the USS Peleliu.
Under the VFA, President Noynoy Aquino’s government may have requested for a handover of custody of the suspected US serviceman in its favor. However, the Aquino’s shameless puppetry to its US masters became apparent with its immediate surrender custody of Pemberton to US authorities.
Jennifer’s family is demanding that the US ships, which are on port call in Subic Bay after the naval exercises, be prevented from leaving in order to make possible the unhindered investigation into the murder.
But even the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) have joined the fray by attacking those calling for justice as “over reacting” and defending the suspect for having simply committed an innocent “crime of passion.”
The police are meanwhile leading the efforts at victim-blaming by irresponsibly insinuating that the victim may have deceived or attempted to rob the perpetrator.
The Aquino government and the military brass are deceitfully claiming that the death of Jennifer and other excesses of the unequal agreements with the US are a small price to pay to defend the country from the rise of China. The claimed assertion of sovereignty through its very violation instantly reveals the absurdity of this position.
It becomes another example of how the supposed threat from China is whipped up to legitimize the unequal relations between the US and the Philippines.
Jennifer’s death is another painful reminder of the continuing neocolonial relations between the US and the Philippines even after the withdrawal of the US military bases in Subic and Clark in 1991. In spite of nominal independence, the country remains indirectly controlled by the US.
From the shooting of peasant Buying-Buyong Isnijal by American soldier Reggie Lane in 2002 to the rape of Suzette Nicolas by US Lance Corporal Daniel Smith in 2005, among many other cases, US troops committing crimes in Philippine soil are never held accountable for their wrongdoings.
As former University of the Philippines Faculty Regent Prof. Judy Taguiwalo puts it, “Nothing has changed since American soldiers killed Filipinos and considered them wild pigs so powerfully depicted in Nora Aunor’s film Minsa’y Isang Gamu-Gamo.”
To decontextualize Jennifer’s gruesome murder from the reality of US domination over the Philippines by keeping it a gender issue alone is hence to turn a blind eye as to how the country’s subservient foreign relations and state policies favoring foreign powers like the US provided the condition for the death of Jennifer.
Moreover, the spread of US troops and military bases around the world has served to reinforce a global capitalist order that marginalizes and discriminates, in the words of Prof. Sarah Raymundo, “against subjects who do not fit into its normalized standards of sexuality.”
Indeed, for while the LGBT identity is tolerated by capitalism as consumers in niche markets, its value as an additional source of profits came, adds Raymundo, with the persistence of gender discrimination and restrictions over the LGBT community’s political freedoms.
In the end, removing US imperialism from the picture effectively obscures the way the liberation for LGBT and women from discrimination, violence, and oppression is unavoidably bound to the political and economic transformation of society itself.