Fatal encounter: Jennifer Laude meets US Marine Corps
PHILIPPINES: As I peered at Jennifer Laude's serene face in the open casket, I saw the wound on her forehead that was barely concealed by the mortician's make up. I did not see the bruises on her neck and shoulders, but a person familiar with the autopsy said they were severe.
"They seemed to have been inflicted by a martial arts move," said Marc Figueras, a local activist who has been with the Laude family since day one of the tragedy. "That may have been one of the causes of death, along with drowning."
A few days earlier, Jennifer, a transgender woman, had been found dead in a hotel room in Olongapo, her face immersed in a toilet bowl. Private Joseph Scott Pemberton of the US Marine Corps was identified as Jennifer's companion entering the motel room, then leaving the crime scene after about 15-20 minutes.
Pemberton, it turns out, is scarcely out of the marines' infamous boot camp, where martial arts skills-lots of it-are drilled into recruits. As a letter from one recruit (reproduced in Hamilton Nolan's blog linked to the Huffington Post) notes,
"We learn a ton of martial arts, which is technically called MCMAP-Marine Corps Martial Arts Program-but I call it Karate and ninja training, which my DI's [drill instructors] don't like one bit. It started with boring punches and kicks, tiger shulman tae kwon do style, but now we're learning throws, counters, elbows, stomps, bayonet attacks, bayonet defenses, etc. all of which we do at full speed and intensity on each other. (Sometimes with pads but often not). If the DI's think we're going easy on each other, they flip a shit.
"The MCMAP shit is incorporated into our PT workouts, one of the best workouts we did was the martial arts conditioning course: 2 minutes of jab straight hook vs. a recruit w a pad throw a recruit over your shoulder, carry them back and forth between 2 cones 30 yards apart somersault (sp?) back and forth 30 yards apartment roundhouse kicks drag a recruit back and forth for 30 yards elbow strikes choke counters knee strikes run 1/2 mile punch blocks/throws crawl (low) in sand for 100 yards body squats run 1/4 mile."
Need it be said that the enraged Marine that fate brought face to face with Jennifer the night of October 11 at the Celzon Lodge had been trained to be a walking weapon?
There is another thing that boot camp drills into raw recruits: homophobia, and plenty of it. With the repeal of the infamous "Don't ask, Don't Tell" policy of the Pentagon, discrimination against gays and lesbians is now supposed to be banned in all US armed services, with heavy penalties for violations. But according to the same anonymous recruit's account, "don't ask don't tell... may have been repealed, but the USMC sure hasn't adapted. We're called faggots 10-50 times a day... 'Yeah, you would think that's a pushup, faggot,' etc. Any time we fuck something up, the DI's tell us 'you stupid fucking thing. That's more wrong than two boys fucking.' One captain, when giving an ethics class, and talking about how one mistake can change your life/identity told the entire company 'you can be a bridge builder your entire life, but you suck one dick and you're a cocksucker till you die.'"
With thousands of such walking weapons from the most homophobic of America's armed services prowling Olongapo's streets on R&R after testosterone-raising military exercises, the murder of Jennifer Laude was an event waiting to happen. The volatile mix of training in the lethal arts and aggressive homophobic socialization was likely to be among the factors that led Pemberton to cross the line from anger to murder that fateful night. And violence such as that meted out to Jennifer is likely to occur again and again, as the US stations more and more troops in our country in pursuit of Washington's grand geopolitical design to contain China.
A dangerous and useless presence
When we opposed the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), one of our key reasons was to prevent our civilian population from again becoming collateral damage as victims of rape, murder, and hate crimes, as many of them were prior to the withdrawal of the big US bases in 1992.
The rape of Nicole by another US Marine, Daniel Smith, in 2005 confirmed our worst fears. Now an even more brutal crime has taken place. No doubt there will be apologists who will say that the Nicole and Jennifer cases are "isolated incidents," that these are outweighed by the benefits of the presence of American troops, as Senator Antonio Trillanes IV is supposed to have claimed. Such assertions are increasingly hollow, especially since Washington is not committed to defending our territories in the West Philippine Sea in the first place, since it says it won't intervene in sovereignty disputes in the Spratlys.
To prevent future incidents, some have proposed tighter regulation of shore leave or more intensive instruction of American troops on the "rules of engagement" with the civilian population. But again, why be satisfied with these half measures when those troops don't need to be here in the first place since they do not promote our national security.
Now people may disagree with me on whether we need a US military presence, but surely there can be no disputing the fact that murder is murder, whether committed by a Filipino or an American, and must be prosecuted with the full force of the law (and here one might note, parenthetically, that Jennifer's killer is lucky that we don't have the death penalty unlike in his home country). People may have different attitudes towards LGBTs (Lesbians, Gays, Bisexuals, and Transgenders)—in the same way people may have different feelings about people of different races-but surely most would agree that transgenders and other members of that community have fundamental rights that must be upheld. Indeed, I doubt that most of those who have been spewing out derogatory comments about Jennifer in the social media would condone her murder.
That lopsided treaty called the Visiting Forces Agreement permits the US to retain custody of a US soldier charged with a crime while prosecution is ongoing. This will not do. The Philippine authorities should have learned from the Daniel Smith fiasco that allowing the US to keep the suspect is simply a way of keeping him away from our authorities until they can find a way to spirit him out of the country. This time Malacañang must demand the unconditional surrender of Pemberton by US authorities.
There must be zero tolerance for hate crimes and zero tolerance of violations of our national sovereignty.
- Walden Bello represents Akbayan Party-list in the Philippine House of Representatives.
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