U.S. marine Joseph Scott Pemberton didn’t bother to show up in court when the Philippines issued his subpoena.
The Philippine court charged Pemberton with the murder and rape of 26-year-old Jennifer Laude, a trans Filipino woman found dead in a Olongapo City hotel room on Oct. 11, after Pemberton was seen entering the hotel with her.
While Jennifer Laude’s family mourned at home, U.S. military officials refused to name the marine they were holding on a U.S. naval vessel in Subic Bay, just outside of Olongapo City, a metropolis that is home to 3,500 U.S. military personnel.
Laude’s murder and Pemberton’s protection these past few weeks have been met with outrage in the Philippines, U.S., and here in Seattle, an ultimate affront to top a rash of recent U.S. military abuses.
“There’s been mass protests going on [in the Philippines] and actually, her family has been really, really involved in making sure that Pemberton, who is the prime suspect, is being held in the custody of the Philippines,” says Katrina Pestano, a lead organizer with the Pacific Northwest BAYAN Queer Collective and GABRIELA, two organizations calling for the justice of Jennifer Laude and de-militarization of the Philippines. “For weeks and weeks, [the Philippine government and police] couldn’t even get [Pemberton] out to the Philippines [to stand trial].”
Meanwhile, Seattle activists struggled internally with the murder.
“It almost felt like a personal violation,” says Pestano.
Laude was killed on the tail of a series of local LGBT hate crimes and tragedies, including the June murders of Ahmed Said and Dwone Anderson-Young, two queer black men; the suicide of trans activist Sun Kim in June; and the 2011 beating and homicide of Danny Vega in South Seattle.
The murder in the Philippines follows the 2009 abduction and torture of Filipina-American health worker Melissa Roxas in Tarlac and the infamous Subic Bay rape of a Filipina women in 2005. The Philippine court convicted Lance Corporal Daniel Smith of the latter crime, but he was transferred from Philippine to U.S. custody, and in 2006 acquitted from serving a life sentence.
BAYAN USA activists blame the U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which gives the Philippines jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel accused of committing crimes on Philippine soil, but allows the U.S. to retain custody of suspects until proceedings are complete.
Despite reports of a number of heinous crimes involving U.S military violence against Philippine civilians, the U.S. signed an Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement in April to increase U.S. troops in the Philippines over a period of 10 years.
This, along with Laude’s murder, reignited the fire to boot U.S. troops from the Philippines altogether. Since Laude’s murder, Bayan USA activists have led actions in New York City, Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Seattle advocates have circulated a petition to end the VFA, which they say is responsible for delaying justice for Jennifer Laude’s murder, obstructing justice in the Subic Bay rape, and causing further violence and damage to the Philippine people, their environment and livelihood.
At a Seattle candlelight vigil last night inside Inay’s Restaurant on Beacon Hill, speakers emphasized communal responsibility.
“[Jennifer’s] brutal death is a reminder of the vulnerability of trans women, the marginalization of trans folks, and the underrepresentation of the LGBT community,” said Rosie Dino, a member of the Pacific Northwest BAYAN Queer Collective. “We really do have a duty to address the lack of trans visibility, but we also have accountability as a community to provide a safe space for queer and trans folks… to end the violence against the trans community.”
Vigil organizers from the collective shared a letter they wrote to Jennifer Laude with attendees, reflecting:
“We have spent the last six days remembering who’s bodies have always been on the line, remembering whose lives are deemed expendable, remembering how legacies of colonialism and imperialism have long dehumanized our people, remembering what it’s like to be told you have no right to be who you are and no place for you in this world.”
Wrapped in the historic struggle between the U.S. military and the Philippines, Laude’s murder has become a call to action for activists in Seattle to address transphobia and transmisogyny locally, as well as connect institutionalized trans violence to U.S. militarization.
“I think people need to see more of the connection,” Pestano says.
Pestano points out that trans women of color are overrepresented in the prison system as a result of being profiled as sex workers, and transgender women of color face higher rates of violence than other members of the LGBT community.
In the case of Jennifer Laude’s murder, much of the news has emphasized that Laude was a sex worker, implying that her life had no real value to legitimize her rape and murder, says Pestano.
“In this particular structure of capitalism, I think certain bodies are just valued less than others,” she continues. “You know, children are valued less than women, women are valued less than men, queer people are valued less than straight people, people with disabilities are valued less than [abled people], etc. … . I think trans people and trans women … are at the bottom of all of these.”
In response to this phenomenon, API Chaya will be hosting a series starting later this month dedicated to transformative justice and solutions outside of the system to better serve trans people.
As for Jennifer Laude and her family, Gabriela and BAYAN’s local chapters hope to connect with them. They’ve collected 15 letters of support that Pestano and lead organizer Jill Mangaliman aim to personally deliver to Laude’s family during a Philippines trip in December.
“Let our voices carry across the Pacific until the Philippines and the U.S. government recognize that your life matters”: an apt closing statement in the letter activists read at the vigil last night.
This story has been updated since its original publication.