Pemberton’s freedom is an abomination against the Filipino people and the trans community, not just because the release order was baseless and unjust, but because Pemberton is a convicted, transphobic murderer.
On September 1, 2020, Olongapo City Regional Court ordered the early release of Joseph Scott Pemberton, a US Marine who gruesomely killed Jennifer Laude after finding out that she was a trans woman. Pemberton committed unimaginable violence – with records showing signs of strangling . The hotel staff reported that they saw Laude’s lifeless body in a sitting position with her head down a toilet bowl.
Injustice is not just a part of the new normal, it has been the norm for years already. Instead of rotting in the New Bilibid Prison, Pemberton was “detained” in a comfortable air-conditioned cell inside Camp Aguinaldo, despite being convicted for homicide and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment instead of murder and Reclusion Perpetua.
Our justice system has proven itself once again to be a faulty disgrace. Despite being a ruthless murderer, Pemberton was allowed to benefit from Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA), a sentence reduction provision for prisoners who exhibit “good behavior”, as the basis for premature freedom. Laude’s family lawyer even contradicted the GCTA as a basis for his emancipation, saying that the certificate of good conduct came from US guards and should be deemed irrelevant and baseless. It is also arguable that the said provision is inapplicable for foreign nationals.
The order for early release of Pemberton is a reflection of modern-day US imperialism in the country. The president may have expressed bitter words and threatened to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) after the US revoked Senator Ronaldo “Bato” Dela Rosa’s US Visa, but up until now, the threat remains worthless. On June 1, the Duterte administration had a sudden U-turn, with the president reinstating the VFA for a limited period of six months.
The VFA operationalizes through the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), which allows US military presence in our islands.These agreements benefit American interest more, because although the VFA supposedly ensures that the host country has sole sovereignty over judicial proceedings, it somehow allowed the US to hold their soldiers in custody.
The VFA agreements give convicted criminals a safeguard to avoid detainment in regular Philippine prisons, and end up in more comfortable detention facilities of their liking. The president may have set a dull facade to the US in the past years, but still continues to bow down to Uncle Sam like a little lapdog.
It speaks so much of how flawed our justice system is, where underprivileged Filipinos like Laude settles for scraps, unlike foreigners who enjoy their first world privileges. Further enhanced by laws that have enabled imperialism leaving us Filipinos on the short end of the stick. It is absurd that here in our own country we are treated as second class citizens.
No one can also shy away from the fact that gender-based hate is the reason for the murder. Pemberton mistook Laude as a biological woman and killed her for not being such. It is inhumane for someone to kill let alone murder someone because they are not what they believed them to be. A simple question may have prevented all of this from happening.
It is outrageous to think that for many, cases of gender-based violence have become the norm and not seen as a crime and a moral issue to mend. How much hate did Pemberton have that he resorted to banging Laude’s head on the toilet and strangling her? How can a human being be able to do so much horror? Is this because men think so highly of themselves that a simple misjudgement on someone’s gender is already a warrant to kill? Or perhaps Pemberton grew up in a system which taught him to hate people because of their gender identity? Arguably, it all boils down to systemic patriarchy and homophobia which say so much about Pemberton’s conduct and character.
These injustices is why we cry for the immediate passing of the SOGIE Bill as a foundation for a more inclusive and specific law that will protect our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters from gender-based violence, discrimination, and exclusion.
Duterte could have defended Laude like how he campaigned on supporting LGBTQ+ rights last 2016, yet instead he let loose a convicted coldblooded murderer. His regime is one of lies and impunity for the LGBT community. This act alone is a reflection on how society perceives a trans woman’s life, like some worthless rag who does not have any value.
Pemberton’s freedom may be another dark episode for the history of the trans community in the country, but our fight against transphobia and gender-based violence will never falter. We will continue to shout for equal rights and justice for the fallen and the living. We will continue to march on the streets to demand justice. We will continue to shake the patriarchal pillars from its foundations. We may have lost today but this will not be true forever. We do not accept injustice for an answer. [P]
Photos from Armed Forces of the Philippines/Getty Images