The International Women’s Alliance expresses our firmest solidarity with the people of the Philippines who are outraged by the recent pardon and release of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton. Pemberton served only 6 years of his 10 year sentence for the brutal murder of Jennifer Laude. Laude, a Filipino trans woman who met Pemberton on the evening of October 11, 2014 at a nightclub in the Philippines, was left dead in a motel room with strangulation marks around her neck and her head in a toilet bowl later that same night. Pemberton’s conviction was reduced from murder to homicide, which reduced his sentence to only 10 years in prison. President Duterte’s decision to grant Pemberton absolute pardon due to “good behavior” exposes Duterte’s complete subservience to US imperial rule, and is an affront to Philippine sovereignty with a complete disregard for the life of Jennifer Laude and all other victims of violence by US militarization.
In addition to not serving his full sentence, Pemberton was never fully turned over to Philippine authorities but was left under joint custody between the Philippines and US military. Allowing this murderer to serve his sentence in a US military facility instead of in a prison cell is a grave injustice to the Laude family and creates a mockery of the Philippine justice system. It further proves that the Philippines is nothing more than a playground for US imperialism, which is ruled by a puppet government whose strings are controlled by the US military.
Additionally, years of long standing unequal relations between the US and the Philippines have led to numerous abuses of the US military personnel to go unpunished. This is part of a long history of injustices and impunity, where the rights of people, especially women and LGBTQ people are trampled upon by the Philippine government. The month of September marks the Filipino people’s victory against the continuation of permanent US military bases in the Philippines.
On September 16, 1991, with widespread call and mobilization in the country, the Philippine Senate officially ended the 1947 contract with US Naval Bases. The removal of the bases showed the strong opposition of the Filipino people against the presence and intervention of the US military in domestic and foreign policies. The protests against the renewal of the contract were grounded on the people’s cry to uphold national sovereignty against foreign intervention, grave abuses by the US military against Filipinos especially committed against women and children, and the harmful effect on the environment.
However, the Philippine government’s subservience to foreign powers continued as it later signed in 1999 the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) in 2014 amid the strong opposition of the Filipino people. These two agreements, lopsided in favor of the US, practically opened the entire country to foreign military basing. It also again exposed the Filipino people to grave abuses by visiting personnel involved in military exercises and rest and recreation activities since the agreements guaranteed the protection of US personnel against any criminal liability.
This level of impunity demonstrates further why the Visiting Forces Agreement – which allows the US to maintain jurisdiction on US military bases in the Philippines with no restrictions – must be abrogated for good. We call for an end to US imperial rule in the Philippines and elsewhere. We call for an end to the US military machine which unfairly subjugates women to violence without being held accountable and infringes on the national sovereignty of the Philippine nation. We call for Justice for Jennifer Laude and all victims of human rights abuses at the hand of US military personnel. We call on our international community to dismantle the system of imperialism and uphold the rights of the people, the rights of trans women and the rights of women all over the world.