[News] Philippines - A Transgender Woman Meets the Marine Corps

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 30 18:08:48 EDT 2014

October 30, 2014

*Fatal Encounter*

  A Transgender Woman Meets the Marine Corps


As I peered at Jennifer Laude's serene face in the open casket, I saw 
the wound on her forehead that was barely covered concealed by the 
mortician's make up. I did not see the bruises on her neck and 
shoulders, but I was told that they were severe. "They seemed to have 
been inflicted by a martial arts move," said a mourner familiar with the 
autopsy. "That may have been one of the causes of death, along with 

A few days earlier, on October 11, Jennifer, a transgender woman, was 
found dead in a hotel room, her face immersed in a toilet bowl. The 
murder took place in Olongapo, a city adjoining the former U.S. naval 
base at Subic Bay. Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton of the 
U.S. Marine Corps was identified as Jennifer's companion entering the 
motel room then leaving the crime scene after about 15-20 minutes.

The case has become a cause célèbre. It is destabilizing U.S.-Philippine 
relations and highlighting the difficulties of the Obama 
administration's push to root out the entrenched anti-gay culture of the 
U.S. Armed Services.

*Walking Weapons*

Jennifer's violent end, with no guns or knives involved, might be linked 
to Pemberton's martial arts training, say some who have closely followed 
the case. Pemberton, it turns out, is scarcely out of the Marines' 
famous (or infamous) boot camp, where martial arts skills 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 w 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 min of
    jab straight hook vs. a recruit w a pad throw a recruit over your
    shoulder, carry them back and forth btwn 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.

Needless to say, the enraged marine that fate brought face to face with 
Jennifer Laude on the night of October 11 at the Celzon Lodge in 
Olongapo had been trained to be a walking weapon.

*Homophobic Socialization*

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 U.S. 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 U.S. stations more 
and more troops in the Philippines in pursuit of Washington's grand 
geopolitical design to contain China.

*A Dangerous and Useless Presence*

The murder of Jennifer has placed the spotlight on two security 
agreements that the Philippines has with the United States: the Visiting 
Forces Agreement (VFA) and the so-called Enhanced Defense Cooperation 
Agreement (EDCA). One of the key motivations of those who opposed the 
agreements was to prevent the 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 U.S. bases in 1992.

The rape of a Filipina named "Nicole" by another U.S. Marine, Daniel 
Smith, in 2005 confirmed the anti-VFA movement's worst fears. Now an 
even more brutal crime has taken place. There are people, like President 
Benigno Aquino III, who say that the Nicole and Jennifer cases are 
"isolated incidents," that these are outweighed by the benefits 
allegedly brought by the presence of U.S. troops. Such assertions are 
increasingly hollow, especially since Washington is not committed to 
defending the territories and maritime zones claimed by Manila in the 
West Philippine Sea (South China Sea) in the first place. The United 
States has stated that it won't intervene in sovereignty disputes in the 

To prevent future incidents, some have proposed tighter regulation of 
shore leave or more intensive instruction of U.S. troops on the "rules 
of engagement" with the civilian population. But those opposed to the 
U.S. military presence are not satisfied with these half measures when 
these troops are not needed in the first place since they do not promote 
the national security of the country.

After keeping him aboard the USS Peleliu docked at Subic Bay for nearly 
two weeks after the murder, the United States flew Pemberton by 
helicopter to Fort Aguinaldo, a Philippine base near Manila where he is 
presently confined in an air-conditioned van and guarded by U.S. 
Marines. This anomalous situation has provoked demands for the 
Philippine government to take genuine and full custody of the suspect. 
Many are worried that the United States is not serious about turning 
Pemberton over, even after conviction. They cite the case of Daniel 
Smith. Instead of turning him over to Philippine authorities, the United 
States spirited Smith out of the country when the victim inexplicably 
"recanted" her testimony.

The Philippines' Department of Foreign Affairs has stated that under the 
terms of the VFA, the United States could maintain custody of the 
accused until after prosecution and conviction. The secretary of justice 
contradicted this, saying that with Pemberton in a Philippine military 
facility, the government already had custody of the suspect. Meanwhile, 
President Benigno Aquino III told the media 
<http://www.rappler.com/nation/72812-laude-aquino-wake> he would not be 
present at Laude's burial because "I don't attend wakes of people I 
don't know. I find it ...uncomfortable in trying to condole with people 
who don't know me." All this has created the image of a hapless and 
insensitive government that appears hesitant to secure justice for one 
of its slain citizens.

*Obama's Troubled Anti-Discrimination Policy*

As the Philippine government flounders, the Obama administration has 
been confronted with the reality that despite it's repeal of the "Don't 
Ask, Don't Tell" policy, the banning of discrimination against gays and 
lesbians may be facing rough sailing in the armed services. The brutal 
slaying of Jennifer and the continued homophobic socialization of 
recruits indicate how difficult it may be to uproot deep-seated 
attitudes and institutional practices. It is not surprising that a 
Marine is in the hot seat. The Marine Corps carried out the fiercest 
opposition to the repeal of "Don't Ask, Don't Tell," with Gen James 
Amos, until recently the Marine Corps commandant, claiming that the 
change could cost lives because of the impact on "discipline" and "unit 
cohesiveness." A few months after the banning of anti-gay 
discrimination, Amos reversed himself 
claiming the Marines had "adapted smoothly and embraced the change." The 
Laude murder and the continued employment of anti-gay slurs as a 
psychological disciplinary tool in boot camp call this judgment into 

On the hot and sunny day of October 24, Jennifer Laude was finally laid 
to rest in Olongapo. Hundreds of people were in attendance, but other 
than myself and the chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, 
Philippine national government authorities were markedly absent. In my 
eulogy, I called Jennifer 
<http://www.rappler.com/nation/72948-jennifer-laude-laid-rest> "a symbol 
of our suffering motherland" and called for "justice for Jennifer and 
justice for our country."

Taking into account the lopsided history of U.S.-Philippine relations, 
that demand was, in the view of the skeptics, a tall order.

/*Walden Bello* represents Akbayan (Citizens' Action Party) in the House 
of Representative of the Philippines and is the author or co-author of 
19 books, the latest of which are Capitalism's Last Stand? 
<http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/1780320450/counterpunchmaga> (London: 
Zed, 2013) and State of Fragmentation: the Philippines in 
Transition (Quezon City: Focus on the Global South and FES, 2014)/

/This column originally appeared on Foreign Policy in Focus 

Freedom Archives 522 Valencia Street San Francisco, CA 94110 415 
863.9977 www.freedomarchives.org
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