Filed under: Editorials, Featured, Repression, The State, Trans, US, War
Editorial from the so-called Philippines, a former colony of the so-called United States, on the horrific, transphobic murder of Jennifer Laude by Joseph Scott Pemberton, a Lance Corporal in the US Marine Corps, on October 11th, 2014. Pemberton claimed “self-defense” in the murder of Laude for not “revealing her gender identity.” Pemberton was given an “absolute pardon” in September of 2020 by President Rodrigo Duterte.
To our comrades in Turtle Island,
Three years ago Filipino/a/x autonomists, anarchists, and abolitionists in the so-called Philippines and its diasporas wrote open letter asking US anti-fascists to resist the return of Joseph Scott Pemberton to the United States. We regret that we have not read of any anti-fascist group who actually took to task resisting the return of Jennifer’s murderer. We have asked U.S. anti-fascists to act where we could not, and our call had fallen on deaf ears.
Let us review the facts for our comrades in Turtle Island:
Pemberton committed a heinous hate crime by brutally murdering Jennifer Laude on October 11, 2014. Jennifer was murdered precisely because she was transgender, with Pemberton’s legal team even trying the so-called “trans panic” defense as a justification for her murder. The Philippine state appears to have sided with Pemberton’s excuse that Jennifer’s identity was a provocation in itself, inducing Pemberton to kill her. This defense frames Pemberton as the victim and sets a dangerous precedent for trans women in the archipelago and beyond.
Jennifer Laude is fondly remembered by her friends and family fondly as a beautiful person who was confident in her identity and sexuality. However, Pemberton did not care for Jennifer Laude as a human being. He was unrepentant at his trial, even going so far to dehumanize Jennifer Laude by referring to her as “it.”
Pemberton’s case was discussed again when the Philippine government considered him for an early release due to “good conduct” in early September, a charge that the Laude family questioned on the grounds that Pemberton could not have proved good behavior. Indeed, how could Pemberton have proven his “good conduct” if he had not interacted with any prisoner in his specially-designed cell?
The point is now moot, as Pemberton has received an absolute pardon from Duterte. He can now walk free, absolved of any criminal liability. We have no doubt that the government of the United States has had a hand in President Duterte’s granting of absolute pardon unto Pemberton.
As anti-fascists, we know all too well how the state employs a double standard in their policing between the privileged and the dispossessed. Pemberton’s whiteness protected him from facing any meaningful consequences, just as whiteness protected countless murderers in the so-called United States. His case has been rife with special treatment from the beginning and his pardon from Duterte only confirms that. The murderer has known nothing but lenience and special treatment in his trial and during his imprisonment. He was detained separately during his trial and was the only occupant of a Camp Aguinaldo detainment facility that was specially constructed for him after his conviction. As the pandemic ripped through overcrowded prisons, the state in the Philippines is dragging its feet on releasing non-violent offenders — potentially condemning countless prisoners to a slow death by COVID-19. Yet the white man, the U.S. national, the violent offender, the prisoner at no risk of contracting COVID-19 was the one prioritized for release. Upon his return to the so-called United States, the U.S. government went on record stating that the murderer would not face court-martial in the country.
The reason Pemberton’s whiteness protected him is due to the imperialized position of the Philippines in the U.S. empire. Since the U.S. invasion of the so-called Philippines in 1898, U.S. troops have enjoyed free rein in the archipelago. Pemberton was in the Philippines due to Balikatan, annual military exercises between U.S. and Philippine armed forces — a recurring program established following the ratification of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The VFA is reminder of the neocolonial presence of the United States in the Philippines. It allows for the presence of U.S. military personnel, aircraft, and vessels in the Philippines. It also complicates the custodial process for U.S. troops accused of committing crimes while in the archipelago. Though Duterte’s administration moved to suspend the agreement earlier this year, Duterte reneged 3 months before pardoning Pemberton.
Militarization of the archipelago by U.S. troops has been correlated time and again with violence and sexual assault against women and against sex workers. The violence that occurs at the intersections of racism, sexism, fetishization, and dehumanization are compounded for trans women who experience violence simply for being trans.
We anti-fascists already know there is no justice to be had from the state, whether Philippine or American. This transphobic murderer continues to walk free as far as the states in the Philippines and the United States are concerned, so we reiterate our call anti-fascists in the so-called United States to act.
While U.S. anti-fascists acted valiantly in response to the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and stepped up and defended communities where the state willfully failed, we have heard nothing to suggest that Filipino/a/x trans lives matter in response to the return of the murderer to his country.
There is still time to make up for this injustice. Do not allow Pemberton to forget the vile crime he committed. You must prevent Pemberton from committing harm again. You must petition Pemberton’s prospective universities and employers to not accept him on account of his violent past. You must picket his home with memorials to Jennifer Laude. You must reveal to the world what a hateful and spiteful little man he is. Above all, we ask you to remember Jennifer Laude as a victim of white supremacy and include her in your commemorations of the victims of white supremacy.
She must be spoken in the same sentences as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all other victims of U.S. imperialism and police violence. She was well-loved by her family and friends and her nickname was “Ganda” meaning “beautiful.” Remember her as Ganda, kind, and generous. Remember her family as brave and steadfast in their demands for justice. While Jennifer’s story is not well known in the so-called United States, the injustice surrounding her case deserves your anger and solidarity.
Filipinos/as/xs have thundered that trans lives matter and for justice for Jennifer Laude, but we regret our voices were not joined by U.S. anti-fascists. Ganda’s death anniversary is on October 11TH. We expect you to act. Please send reports of your actions to counter-info websites. Please do not make us ask again a third time.
In anger and solidarity,
Filipino/a/x autonomists, anarchists, and abolitionists in the so-called Philippines and its diasporas