The details are hazy at this point, but it is clear that one Jennifer Laude was found dead in the comfort room of a lodge in Olongapo, her head in the toilet bowl, seemingly asphyxiated from having had her head neck pushed into the bowl’s rim. She was naked save for a blanket around her.
Jennifer was seen entering that room with someone who has been referred to on TV as Kano. That is, Amerikano. That is, an American. The last friend Jennifer had spoken to confirms that the victim was in fact with a foreigner on the evening of October 11. This friend had left Jennifer and the foreigner at the lodge upon the request of Jennifer.
The couple would check in at the lodge at around 11PM. A room attendant sees the foreigner walk out of the room 30 minutes after, leaving the door ajar. The hotel staff tasked to clean the room finds Jennifer dead in the bathroom.
The VFA-EDCA question
But it seems there is a tendency to fall silent about this death, like we are uncertain about what to do now, or what to do next.
It could be because the US Embassy and Marine Corps Times have confirmed that a soldier of the US Marines is a suspect in the murder of Jennifer, and is being detained in the ship USS Peleliu docked in Olongapo. Three other US soldiers are also being detained as possible witnesses. Under orders from the US Pacific Command Chief Samuel Locklear III, no ships are to leave the Philippines while this investigation is ongoing.
But who is doing this investigation exactly? There’s the Naval Criminal Investigation Service as per the Marine Corps Times report dated October 12. Others say it’s the US Embassy in the Philippines that’s doing an investigation. But the more credible report seems to be that the Visiting Forces Agreement Commission (VFACom), the US Embassy, and the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) are waiting on the investigation.
According to the news, the only active investigation seems to be that of Regional Police Office-3 in charge of Olongapo. As of Tuesday, the investigation has yet to become about the VFA, which is to silence what is at the heart of this murder.
Because that US soldier last seen with Jennifer was one of 4,000 who were here under the VFA, and particularly for Amphibious Landing Exercise (PHIBLEX) 15. They came in the USS Peleliu, USS Germantown, and USS Frank Cable. PHIBLEX 15 ended on October 10. The following evening one Filipina, Jennifer Laude, was dead.
If this crime happened in South Korea and Japan, both of which have existing Status Of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) with the US, it would be clear that this soldier should be under the custody and jurisdiction of the host country and not housed in the ship he arrived in while investigation is ongoing. But our VFA gives the US custody of its erring soldiers, even when under Philippine Law we have jurisdiction over crimes committed here.
Worse, a look at Section 5 of the VFA asserts that: “Recognizing the responsibility of the United States military authorities to maintain good order and discipline among their forces, Philippine authorities will, upon request by the United States, waive their primary right to exercise jurisdiction except in cases of particular importance to the Philippines.”
Will waive primary right to exercise jurisdiction upon request of the US unless it is of particular importance to the Philippines.
Let’s hope Jennifer is important enough to this government.
The gender equation
But first we decide not to be confused about the fact of this death.
Because media is truly messing it up, even with just getting Jennifer’s name right, as they refuse to call her by the name that she identifies herself with, insisting on calling her by her birth name Jeffrey. Worse, many put Jennifer in quotes, or say Jeffrey Laude alias Jennifer, which already layers her name with the idea of deception.
Because Jennifer is transgender, a trans woman. Woman being the operative term, and common sense tells us that she is a “she” and nothing else. There is no reason to be confused. Of course, media will be its hardheaded heartless unthinking self, and refuse to identify Jennifer as she identified herself.
But it can only get worse. As of Monday night investigators were looking at two possible motives. One, that the American had found out Jennifer was transgender, and so he killed her. Two, that Jennifer had tried to steal from the foreigner, and so he killed her. Tuesday news reports confirm that there were two used condoms in the trash can in the comfort room, which for the local police must mean the first motive is improbable. That of course leaves us with number two.
The picture that either motive paints, of course, is one that puts into question Jennifer and justifies her murder in the process. She deceived the foreigner, so he killed her. She tried to steal from him, so he killed her.
So he killed her. So the American killed the Filipina. So one American soldier killed one Jennifer Laude.
So many things remain hazy about this case. But the fact that Jennifer is a murder victim is clear. As is the fact that she was last seen with one foreigner, described as American with marine-style hair. As is the fact that the US has held one of its own soldiers in the USS Peleliu while the local police investigate. As is the fact that the VFACom, the US Embassy, the DFA are waiting on that investigation’s findings.
We wait with bated breath. We wonder if this government will take on the cause of Jennifer and bring her murderer—American or otherwise—to justice.