She chose to call herself Jennifer and she was beautiful.

Born Jeffrey Laude, she chose to recreate herself into Jennifer, and she was loved by her friends and family. She accepted who she was, and so did those who cared about her. According to reports, she was the family’s bread winner. She supported her loved ones and provided for their needs, including sending her youngest sibling Rex to school. Jennifer’s sister Michelle said that Jennifer had dreams for their family; you know, the usual hopes – to relieve them from the yoke of poverty.

But now, everyone has their own piece about her and what happened to her. Many of the comments are appalling, infuriating. Strangers malign her and say that she deserved what was done to her, that the likes of her will never be accepted in heaven and that in life they – Jennifer and those who chose to follow their hearts and souls to be on the outside what they were on the inside – were already burning in hell.

Oh, Jennifer.

Her fiancé Marc Lubec has bravely and with love, pride and anguish declared his commitment to her. He said that he accepted Jennifer, her whole history, body and soul and already has intent of marrying her. In his righteous anger, Marc denounced the corruption of the Philippine government and slammed malicious insinuations that Jennifer was a prostitute and that what happened was the effect of her attempting to steal money.

In the meantime, as her family grieves, patriots and human rights advocates all over the country are one with them in outrage. Her picture is all over the news, and debates are raging.

The facts are as follows:

On October 12, 2014, the 26-year old Jennifer met a US Marine, PFC Joseph Scott Pemberton in a bar in Olongapo. The two of them left and went to a lodging house sometime before midnight. There were witnesses who saw them together, and their arrival in the lodging house was also captured on CCTV.

screengrab from cctv footage
screengrab from cctv footage

Some 30 minutes later, Pemberton left, leaving the door ajar. Moments later, a member of the lodging house staff came to clean the room, and found Jennifer dead. Her head was in the toilet, she was naked except for a blanket that covered her.

Different news reports have it that her body bore bruises, particularly around her neck.

As of this writing, an official forensic report has been released, different Philippine National Police (PNP) spokespersons have said that it was safe to say that Jennifer died from drowning from the water in the toilet bowl. Death by asphyxia.

When you see Jennifer’s pictures when she was still alive, well and happy, you cannot help but contrast them with the image of her in death. As she was killed. As she was murdered in cold blood by a US soldier whom, based on his own pictures posted in his Facebook account, was young, powerfully built, and proud of being in the US Marines.

According to reports, Pemberton is now in the custody of US military officials on the Naval ship Peleliu, while local police and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service investigate the charges against him. Already, the PNP has admitted that they are finding it hard to gain access to Pemberton. That they cannot even get close to the man to question him, get him finger printed, or have his mug shot taken, all part of the legal process suspects of crimes are subjected to.

And why is Pemberton being protected?

Because he is a US Marine, and because his rights (including, apparently, to kill people in what perhaps was a fit of rage) are protected under the Visiting Forces Agreement, or VFA.

What’s the VFA, you ask?

The RP-US Visiting Forces Agreement is a military agreement between the Philippines and the United States. It’s the legal framework that allows the entry and continued presence of US troops in the Philippines. It’s the mechanism, US and its traitor-stooges in the Philippine government used to circumvent the law, which states that no foreign military bases can be established on Philippine soil right after the Senate ejected the US bases in 1991. The VFA is what legalizes the presence of US military troops in the country – along with all their nuclear weapons, guns, chemical weapons and what have you that they will never tell us on their ships and planes – without the need for a new treaty.

The VFA is comprised of two parts, the VFA 1 and the VFA 2. The first states how US soldiers will be treated while on Philippine soil, and VFA 2 is about how Philippine soldiers will be treated on US territory. VFA 1 became effective on May 27, 1999 after it was ratified by the Senate. According to the Philippine constitution, the entry and continued presence of foreign troops in the Philippines requires a treaty approved by the Senate. This means that the Philippines considers the VFA a treaty. On the other hand, the US senate never ratified the VFA. US officials only declared that the US recognizes the VFA as it is on paper.

In the VFA, there are clear declarations on what activities US troops can engage in the Philippines. There have already been cases when US troops have engaged in actual combat operations with the Armed Forces of the Philippines. American soldiers have also joined the AFP in doing combat patrols, armed convoys, as well as surveillance activities in civilian communities and areas.

For all of the defending that VFA-supporters in the government have, there is actually no way for Philippine authorities to know the identity of US soldiers who enter the country, and how long they stay. Take this – they do not have to apply for visas to stay in the Philippines. The VFA also allows US troops to escape having to pay customs duties for the materials and supplies they bring in. What’s an even bigger cause for indignation is the fact that the VFA prohibits mandatory quarantine inspection of all food supplies of US troops, and it will only be up to US military officials if Philippine local authorities will be allowed to inspect. The US government does not have to pay a single centavo when its ships and planes use PH airports and seaports.

All of these are already unconscionable, but as they say in junk American game shows and infommercials, “wait, there’s more!”

In VFA1, it is stated that if and when a US soldier violates any Philippine law, he may remain in the custody or protection of the US as his case is being heard. Even if it said that US troops are under the “jurisdiction” or authority of the Philippines, this does not mean that US soldiers who committed violations or crimes against Philippine laws will be placed under the custody of the Philippines.

[quote_center]The fact that the US treats the VFA as a simple executive agreement – while the Philippines considers it a treaty – is another glaring proof that the VFA is an unfair, unjust and treacherous agreement.[/quote_center]

The exact opposite is what’s stated in the VFA 2. Here it’s stated that PH troops who violate US laws will be automatically placed under the custody of the US. The fact that the US treats the VFA as a simple executive agreement – while the Philippines considers it a treaty – is another glaring proof that the VFA is an unfair, unjust and treacherous agreement.

Yep, through VFA – and the Mutual Defense Treaty, the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA) before it, and now the EDCA or Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, the US is able to keep the Philippines under its military influence and even control.

A History of Aggression and Unjust Relations

I can go on and on about the history of the Philippines and its relations with the US. We could begin with how the US “brought” The Philippines from Spain for an insulting $20 million (December 10, 1898). Then go on about how Filipinos – and those who continued the revolution began by Andres Bonifacio like Macario Sakay fought against the US in a guerrilla war that lasted three years beginning February 4, 1899 where 20,000 Filipino combatants were killed, while civilian deaths numbered between 250,000 and one million (on the side the US, 4,200 American combatants were killed).

We must never forget the words of US Gen. Jacob H. Smith as they prepared to massacre the people of Balangiga town in Samar:   “‘I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn: the more you kill and burn, the better you will please me.’ In history reports, he was said to have admitted that he wanted all persons killed and this meant everyone and anyone capable of bearing arms. He also firmly declared that Samar boys around 10 were equally as dangerous as their elders, so they should also be killed.

from philippineamericanwar.wordpress.com
from philippineamericanwar.wordpress.com

 

And on and on and on. But this is not a history paper. This is about more recent events. This is about how a Filipino woman – a Filipino citizen—was killed by a US soldier who is now being protected by his government with the connivance of the Philippine government under BS Aquino. But Jennifer is not the first victim of the VFA, and chances are huge that she will not be the last so long as US troops remain on Philippine soil and the Philippine president licks the shoes of his US counterpart.

The VFA, the likes of Senator Antonio Trillanes III claim, should not be abrogated just because a transgender woman was killed (this would also have been his line – and for all we know it was – when another Filipina, Nicole, was raped by another US soldier, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith in November 2005). There are, he said, “many benefits” to the VFA.

What these benefits are, Mr. Senator, we would like to know. But it’s been 15 years since the VFA was signed and no review has been made to determine if the Philippines hasn’t been on the losing end (it has) of the deal all this time. In the meantime, Jennifer is dead, the Tubbataha reefs have been destroyed courtesy of US naval ships, and who the hell knows what US troops have been doing when there are no members of the media and patriotic groups around. It was groups like the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, Bayan Muna and Gabriela that exposed the shooting of farmer Buyong-Buyong Isnijal in Tuburan, Basilan in 2002 by American soldier Reggie Lane.

The human rights group Karapatan has also reminded the public that in 2004, Dr. Julius Ceasar Aguila was killed through still undetermined circumstances. Aguila was then chief of the Lamitan District Hospital; he was the one who testified that Buyong-buyong was brought by members of the 14th Infantry Division with three US soldiers to the hospital. He identified Sgt. Lane as one of the US soldiers. Dr. Aguila personally know Sgt. Lane during medical missions they conducted in Lamitan, Basilan.

bloody record

Then there’s the shooting of Arsid Baharon in Barangay San Roque, Zamboanga City on June 21, 2004 by an American soldier whose identity US authorities have withheld. Also in 2004, Sardiya Abu Calderon, 54, died of a heart attack when a helicopter manned by two US troops landed on their farm during a clearing operation conducted by the AFP and US troops.

Four years later, on February 4, 2008, in Barangay Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu, Rawina Wahid and her family were forced to flee from their home when they suddenly heard gun shots. As they tried to take shelter, soldiers shot at them and ignored their screams that they were civilians. Rawina heard a voice shout “Hold your fire” , but by then she had been shot, and her husband was killed. A total of seven civilians, including two children and two teenagers, were killed. Rawina was taken to a navy boat alongside her husband’s body. She testified that she saw two US Navy soldiers before she was blindfolded. She was then taken to a military camp. In media reports, the Philippine Army tried to brush off the series of crimes and said that the incident was a military raid against members of the Abu Sayyaf members. It also denied that US soldiers participated in the operation.

Finally, there’s Gregan Cardeño. In 2010, he was hired by a private military contractor to be an interpreter for US troops stationed in a military facility in Marawi City. He was fluent in Bahasa Indonesia, Tausug and Cebuano. A month after he started his work, on February 2, at 2pm, Gregan’s sister Carivel received a call. She spoke to SPO3 Ali Goubon Rangiris of Marawi Police Station, and was told that her brother was found dead in the barracks of the 103rd Infantry Brigade of the PA at Camp Ranao, Brgy. Datu Saber, Marawi City.

After Gregan’s “mysterious” death, Gregan’s friend, the one who recruited him for the job, Capt. Javier Ignacio was gunned down. Ignacio helped Cardeno’s family shed light on Gregan’s death. Gregan, it was said, had discovered possible clandestine operations US forces are conducting in the Philippines and he wanted it out. It was made to appear that he hanged himself with a bed sheet.

And now, in 2014, there is Jennifer Laude. Killed by an American soldier, but she’s the one being crucified and slapped with the most insane and cruel labels and accusations.

What Now?

While rallies and protests have been erupting left and right here and overseas calling for justice for Jennifer and the scrapping of the VFA, Pres. Aquino met with US Pacific Command Chief Samuel Locklear III to sign agreements to engage in 426 joint PH-US military activities. This was just two days after Jennifer’s brutal murder.

The Aquino government, it’s apparent, cannot care less for what has happened to Jennifer – the same way previous administrations did not care about Nicole, Buyong-Buyong, Arsid, Calderon, or Gregan. The Palace is mum on Jennifer’s murder, and is allowing the PNP to handle everything even as it has already been announced that everything is actually in the hands of the US military authorities.

While Pemberton has been charged for murder, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) and the Presidential Commission on the VFA (VFACOM) have also announced that custody of Pemberton automatically rests with the US. This was in accordance with Article V, Paragraph 6 of the VFA: “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.”

from Southern Tagalog Exposure
Photo courtesy: Southern Tagalog Exposure

 

According to VFACOM Executive Director Retired General Eduardo Oban Jr., “if the US so requests” clause means that it applies only if Philippine authorities were the first to apprehend the suspect. The US military already had custody of Pemberton when his murder was first reported in the news. Because of this, Oban said, the Philippines cannot deny the authority of the US in protecting Pemberton.

The same VFA provision states that “in extraordinary cases” the Philippines can “present its position to the US regarding custody, which it shall take into full account.”

And pigs will be flying on the day the US allows any one of its soldiers to be incarcerated in a Philippine jail to suffer his just and rightful punishment for killing a Filipino.

It’s Jennifer

Finally, on Jennifer herself. She wanted to be called Jennifer, and that’s who she was. This is not a subject of debate. That she was transgender is not an issue, but we must all take issue against insults, comments and arguments that she deserved to die because she was “a fake woman”. Pemberton most likely was driven by rage and extreme homophobia when he discovered that Jennifer was transgender, but he had no right to kill her, and he deserves to be put behind bars. That is all there is to it.

As for those who now attack and malign Jennifer even in death, they should all be ashamed for helping prove how far Philippine society is from being one that embraces human rights and respect for the rights of individuals to live, love and simply BE when they are not harming or hurting anyone else by doing and being so. Homophobia harms, kills people; being homosexual doesn’t. Homophobia generates hatred. Homosexuality is a way of being, of loving, of living. Homophobia is a crime, and those who think and say that homosexuality is a sin should be ashamed. The only problem with homosexuality is that in societies that are bigoted, narrow-minded, homophobic and culturally backward, being homosexual can get a homosexual person hurt by no fault of his or her own.

Finally, Jennifer Laude WAs more than just a murder victim. She is a victim of the VFA and the Philippine government’s corruption and obeisance to foreign powers.

Finally, Jennifer Laude was more than just a murder victim. She was a victim of the VFA and the Philippine government’s corruption and obeisance to foreign powers. What makes her killing more than your garden variety crime case (and the Philippines is a massive garden where different crimes flourish like poison flowers and mushrooms ) is the fact that even though her murderer is already known and has been charged, her family alone cannot push for justice, and there are no guarantees that justice can be attained. They are up against the US government that will do all it can to make sure that the murderer – Pemberton – is protected. And justice, in Jennifer’s case, should not stop with Pemberton’s arrest and sentencing. The fight is for the abrogation of the VFA and the EDCA, as well as all unjust, one-sided military and economic agreements and arrangements with the US. The campaign for justice for Jennifer is also a campaign for human rights, and part of the struggle for Philippine sovereignty and independence.

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