On the evening of Wednesday, October 15, around 100 people gathered in San Francisco’s Union Square to hold a candlelight vigil for Jennifer Laude, a 26-year-old transgender Filipina woman who was allegedly murdered by a U.S. Marine in the Philippines last Saturday night.
The event was spearheaded by BAYAN-USA and GABRIELA-SF and supported by local Filipino, people of color, women’s rights, and LGBT activists. Gatherers expressed sadness and anger at Gaude’s murder at the hands of U.S. Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton.
Late last Saturday night, Jennifer Laude apparently checked into a hotel in Olongapo City, northwest of the capital Manila, with Pemberton, a white male U.S. Marine she met at Ambyanz Disco bar.
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Soon after, according to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, “Laude was found lifeless on the bathroom floor of one of the rooms of Celzone Lodge after checking in allegedly with Pemberton. The victim’s head was slumped in the toilet.” Laude died of asphyxiation and, according to police, was possibly strangled.
Protesters condemned the routine violence against transgender women of color and U.S. foreign policy in the Philippines. A 2013 report from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs (NCAVP) found that of the more than 2,000 incidents of anti-LGBTQ violence, 73.1% of anti-LGBTQ homicide victims were people of color and 53.8% were transgender women.
Isa Noyola of EL/LA Para Translatinas explained to The Post that Laude’s death is one example of the systemic violence transgender women of color face. The root of this violence, she said, is “patriarchy and our society’s view on how trans lives are disposable.”
Protesters’ major demand was to hold Pemberton accountable in the Philippines rather than U.S. military jurisdiction. Pemberton is currently detained aboard the USS Peleliu in the Subic Bay Freeport Zone, about 50 miles northwest of Manila.
However, the 1999 U.S.-Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) grants the United States jurisdiction over crimes committed by U.S. military personnel in the Philippines. It also allows for joint military exercises and training between the U.S. and Philippine militaries, largely to fight Islamic militant groups as part of the U.S. War on Terror and counter Chinese influence. The recent Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) grants the United States greater access to Filipino military bases.
Protesters argued that these agreements benefit American military hegemony at the expense of Philippine self-determination and dignity. Faye Lacanilao, an organizer with BAYAN-USA, told The Post that ending VFA and EDCA was another demand, along with “letting us figure out how we can also defend ourselves, prioritize other things like creating national industry, supporting education, having solid healthcare, and not busying ourselves with dealing with [the] American military.”