ONE had the sense that Joseph Scott Pemberton would get away with murder.
After all, American-Philippine relations are filled with narratives such as this one, and this would not be the first time that an American soldier, here for the US bases or any other version of it since 1994, and “on a break” from “official business” via some “rest and relaxation” gets into trouble for abusing our women.
But of course the relationship between Pemberton and Jennifer is so much more complex than that.
It was painful to hear how the Pemberton defense painted this to have been a matter of deception, where the man is made into someone who did not know enough to, and could not, tell the difference between a woman and a transsexual like Jennifer.
They must have known that in pseudo-conservative Philippines, painting a picture of the deceived male almost always justifies any kind of violence against the woman, or tranny for that matter. They must have known that in macho Philippines, the men would understand: yeah, they would’ve killed Jennifer, too. They would’ve been so offended that they had been duped by a tranny into believing she was a woman, enough to leave her lifeless body in the bathroom, her head in the toilet.
And yet one also wonders what kind of man this is who was being allowed by the US Navy to get some “liberty time” – yes that’s what they call rest and relaxation these days – away from their ship, when he could not/would not be able to tell difference between man, woman, tranny. What kind of US Marine is this who did not know enough about the cultural landscape he was being set free upon?
What this tells us is that the Philippines, via these Balikatan exercises, is the playground of these young US military recruits, who are not mature enough, not old enough, to be able to shrug off a mistake such as walking into a motel room with a tranny – if it was truly a case of mistaken identity as Pemberton has successfully convinced this court.
As he has successfully convinced too many of our macho men in good ol’ Philippines.
It’s a sad sad time for being tranny, but also for being woman.
Because what this decision tells me is that all of us who have relations with men, all of us who are left in one room with one man, will have to prove that our behavior within those walls did not warrant an armhold like what Pemberton gave Jennifer. That is of course if we survive the violence at all.
Because what this decision tells me is that when push comes to shove, a court will decide in favor of the man, who can get away with murder by pleading ignorance: I did not know what I was getting into when I did it.
Because that’s like saying that it was the tranny’s fault, for failing to point out from the get-go that she is tranny, and not woman.
Because that’s also like saying a woman must be forthright about what she is, who she is, what she’s hiding beneath her clothes, otherwise it will be justifiable if the man shoves her to the floor because he has decided that something’s wrong with her.
Because in my head at least, that is no different from a woman who decides that she does not want to have sex with the man she is with, but is told that it was too late for her to say no since she was already inside the room with him. Because in my head, we should all be able to say no and walk away alive, from whatever sexual relations we might have with a man.
Because that is to say that we all must have a label tacked on our foreheads before we have relations with men: tranny, gay, woman. And don’t forget the adjectives: with penis, without penis, top, bottom, loose, easy, open to violence.
For the court to decide that it was justifiable for Pemberton to have choked Jennifer until she fell unconscious, is to tell every man – foreigner and Pinoy – that they can tell a court: I was deceived by this woman that’s why I killed her.
I was deceived by this woman, so I shoved her. She slapped me, so I choked her. She fell unconscious and there was no water in the bathroom so I put her head in the toilet bowl to revive her. When she wouldn’t wake up, I left her there. I was afraid her friends would come and beat me up.
And our courts believed that, enough to convict Pemberton only of homicide and not murder. Enough to keep him in jail only for 6 to 12 years, counting the years he has already spent in detention during the trial. Enough to give the family that measly amount, an amount it deemed is the value of the life of one Jennifer Laude who was caring for her family.
Enough to allow the Americans to take control of Pemberton’s fate, ignoring the court’s decision that the US Marine be put in the Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, like we have no say at all about how this soldier who committed a crime on our land has to suffer the consequences of his actions.
And here we are divided about how Pemberton should be treated, post-conviction. And we are not so much divided because we are undecided about Pemberton’s guilt or innocence – we all generally agree to his guilt. What we are divided about, sadly, is whether or not Jennifer deserved what she got, is whether or not Jennifer deserved to be choked and then drowned in a toilet bowl.
That this is even the discussion we are having at this point is a measure of how for all our notions of empowerment and equality, the macho continues to reign in this country.
The stench of homophobia and sexism is one we cannot mask.