It’s been painful, hearing about, and watching the story of, Jennifer Laude’s murder unfold. It is sad enough that there is a murder of any person in the hands of Americans brought onto these shores on “legal business.” But to hear the Philippine President speak of it like it’s a run-of-the-mill death, like it happened in a vacuum, like there is no American Marine as who is the prime suspect, is the height of insensitivity.
Of course it’s also because media is so uncritical in the questions it asks of the President, that he is actually allowed the time and mileage to display his lack of compassion for Jennifer.
One wonders if that’s a good thing.
Faulty questions and answers
Because when you ask the President: do you think it’s time to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA)? You know his answer will be a resounding no.
Yet media expectedly asks it of him anyway, the better to hear it from the horse’s mouth. Or get some more that’s worthy of a sound bite – this President (with his spokespersons!) is a gift that keeps on giving in that area. And so it was with an utter lack of emotion that the President asserted: “Bakit natin kailangan i-abrogate ang VFA? Name me any place that doesn’t have crime.” And even more emotion-less when he followed up with: “Should the sin of one person be reflective of the entire country?”
Which is true and which is fine, but which does not give this President and his Yellow Army the excuse to remove this murder from its context. A context that brought one US Marine Joseph Pemberton onto these shores on “official business” like military exercises under the VFA.
That the VFA cradles the murder of every Jennifer in this country cannot and should not be denied. Because this agreement did not just allow Pemberton to set foot in this country which led to his meeting Jennifer; this agreement is also dictating the way Pemberton as murder suspect is being treated, living on a US ship over which Philippine courts have no control, removed from the circus that now surrounds Jennifer’s death.
How can one even imagine that Pemberton is but a run-of-the-mill murder suspect? In the context of the VFA – and this country! – he’s everything and an American marine who is beyond our reach and grasp, who is beyond our jurisdiction and the laws of our land. In fact, even beyond international tribunal laws, as it has been imagined by the American creators of the VFA (and EDCA).
That was always enough reason to want the VFA junked before it was even signed, enough reason to get angry at the EDCA signing before Obama’s visit this year. Now with Jennifer’s death, we are reminded of how angry we still are.
The battle to be won
Which is to say I understand the call to abrogate the VFA. I am all for it.
I’m also all for admitting that it ain’t gonna happen, and focus instead on winning the battle that’s right in front of me.
And this battle can be won, if we focus on the parts of the VFA and the EDCA that we now want to put back on the negotiating table – that we now want to insist be put back on that table – because we have proven, between Nicole and Daniel Smith, and now Jennifer and Pemberton, that there is something fundamentally wrong with these parts.
Because the call can be to revise this agreement, and revise it quickly! in so far as jurisdiction and custody over suspects are concerned. We can demand that we get the same deals that South Korea and Japan got out of the US when it comes to the criminal jurisdiction over American soldiers who commit crimes in the countries they are “visiting.”
To call for abrogating the VFA at this point, in the face of Jennifer’s death, is like wasting our energies on a battle we cannot and will not win. Because this President is not going to fold, he’s too macho for it, too much of a politician. This government – as with all governments before it – is also classic little brown brother material. At the beck and call of America.
Missing the point
Because insisting at this point that the VFA be abrogated just gives the government, the President, his tried and tested Yellowed allies, the space to speak of the death of Jennifer in the most superficial of terms.
One spin has been to insist that this is just a hate crime, and that we must stand against all hate crimes, not just Jennifer’s. Another transgender was killed inside a flower shop elsewhere in the country. Another one as she was walking down the street. There is gender-related violence everywhere, let us stand against all these.
And yes we must certainly stand against all hate crimes, and against every bit of discrimination – not just gender-based ones. But no hate crime happens in a vacuum. It is contextualized in nation, in the dominant ideologies that allow for such hatred to turn into criminal act.
In the case of Jennifer, this context can only be the VFA, because we cannot simply speak of her death without pointing out that the prime suspect in her killing is a US Marine. To speak of Jennifer’s death without mentioning the VFA, this US Marine, and the conditions that brought them together is not just unfair, it is also unjust.
The President himself speaks with an almost coldness. “Ang importante dito mayroong krimen na nangyari, kunin lahat ‘nung ebidensiyang magpapatunay na ang salarin ang may kasalanan dito, at magkaroon tayo ng katarungan.”
But there can be no real justice for Jennifer under the VFA’s current terms. And the longer we all take missing the point, the bigger the chances that US Marine Pemberton will go back to the land of milk and honey, scot-free.
The little brown brothers and sisters, after all, can rot in this hell for all the US cares.