Position Paper on the killing of Jennifer Laude and the VFA

Position Paper on the killing of Jennifer Laude and the VFA
by Cristina Palabay Secretary General, Karapatan
Submitted to the Committee on Foreign Relations 
Senate of the Republic of the Philippines 
October 22, 2014

The killing of transgender woman Jennifer Laude by a US serviceman is a heinous violation of human rights. The incident is reflective of the realities in Philippine society on the extent of prevalent gender-based violence, the climate of impunity, and the geo‐political structures that exist – issues that are most often relegated to the margins of public discussion or swept under the rug by spinmeisters hired to deemphasize the enormity and the roots of the problem. 
Karapatan welcomes this Senate hearing initiated by Senator Miriam Defensor- Santiago, as a means to ferret out these issues, albeit unfortunately spurred by the killing of a sister. 

Karapatan considers the killing of Jennifer Laude as a manifestation of the deeply rooted transphobia and homophobia in Philippine society, where persons whose sexual orientation and gender identities (SOGI) do not conform with intensely feudal and patriarchal societal constructs. They experience an additional layer of oppression, i.e., the violence and discrimination based on SOGI. 

Jennifer’s death is indeed murder, a premeditated act of violence, which is apparent in the testimonies of the witnesses, the details of the crime scene, and the hate language that abound blaming the victim herself. Every day, LGBTs face such premeditated acts of discrimination and violence because we are considered less human, in law and in practice. 

Such acts are legitimized because of the legal and judicial system that turn its blind eye to justice. Perpetrators of human rights violations in this country are usually free from arrests, detention, and conviction. If ever they are arrested, they are accorded special treatment or they are able to buy their way out of jail. This is the reason why impunity – the non-rendering of justice and accountability – continues. The Philippine environment is a fertile ground for its perpetuation. 

A major element that breeds these rights violations committed with impunity in the Philippines is the lopsided military agreements between the US and Philippine governments – the context of the crime committed against Jennifer. From the US-RP Military Bases Agreement to the Visiting Forces Agreement, numerous cases strengthen the historical analysis that these agreements have become licenses for gross transgressions against the Filipino people. These cases are left unsolved, the perpetrators are left unpunished, and the victims and their kin wanting for justice. 

In 1987, a US serviceman stationed in the US base on Subic accused in the rape of 12‐year old Rosario Baluyot was whisked out of the country to avoid prosecution. The child died from sepsis because parts of a vibrator that was inserted in her vagina remained stuck for seven months. 
The rape of “Nicole” by US Marine Daniel Smith in 2005 was the first case where a member of the US military was tried, convicted and sentenced for a crime in Philippine territory. However, the local court ruling on the landmark case was overturned when Smith was secretly transferred from the Makati City Jail to the US Embassy’s custody in 2006, and when Nicole subsequently recanted her testimony. 
There is a long list of atrocities committed by US soldiers against fellow Filipinos, albeit concealed, denied, and uninvestigated. Among the cases documented by Karapatan were: 
1) July 25, 2002, three soldiers forced themselves into the house of Buyong­ buyong Isnijal, a Muslim of of Yakan tribe in Brgy. Camas, Tuburan, Basilan. According to Buyong-­‐buyong’s wife, Juraida Hasalal Isnijal, two of the soldiers were Filipinos and one was a stocky-­‐built African-­‐American who was more than six feet tall. The American soldier, identified as Sgt. Reggie Lane shouted in English, “Sit down! Sit down!” This US soldier shot Buyong-­‐ buyong in the leg. The US military denied the shooting. Two years later, in 2004, Dr. Julius Ceasar Aguila was mysteriously killed. Aguila, who was then chief of the Lamitan Distric Hospital earlier testified that Buyong-­‐buyong was brought by members of the 14th Infantry Division of the Philippine Army (IBPA) with three US soldiers to the hospital. He identified Sgt. Lane as one of the US soldiers. Dr. Aguila personally knew Sgt. Lane during medical missions they conducted in Lamitan, Basilan. 

2) In 2004, US soldiers shot and wounded Arsid Baharun while they were conducting marksmanship practice in Zamboanga City. 

3) Sardiya Abu Calderon, 54, died of a heart attack when a helicopter with two American soldiers landed on their farm during a clearing operation conducted by the US troops and Filipino soldiers. The incident also happened in 2004.

4) On February 4, 2008, in Barangay Ipil, Maimbung, Sulu, Rawina Wahid and her family woke up to a series of gunshots near their house. When the shots stopped, they abandoned their house and boarded a banca, hoping they could find refuge in the mangroves. But the soldiers followed and started firing at them despite their cries of, “sibilyan kami” (We’re civilians). Rawina heard someone shout in English, “Hold your fire.” Seven civilians, including two children and two teenagers, were killed during the incident. Wahid was also shot. She, with her husband’s body, was brought to a navy boat. There she saw two US Navy soldiers before she was blindfolded and later brought to a military camp. The Philippine Army later announced the incident as a military raid against Abu Sayyaf members and denied having US soldiers in the operation. 

5) In 2010, Gregan Cardeño was hired by a private military contractor to be an interpreter for US soldiers stationed in a military facility supposedly in Camp Siongco in Cotabato City. He was well versed in the Bahasa language, Tausug and Cebuano. His job was supposed to start on January 1, 2010. On February 2, at 2pm, Carivel, Gregan’s sister received a call through Cardeño’s phone. SPO3 Ali Goubon Rangiris of Marawi Police Station was on the line informing her that Cardeño was found dead in the US troops barracks inside the Philippine Army’s 103rd Infantry Brigade at Camp Ranao, Brgy. Datu Saber, Marawi City. The US Forces, the Philippine National Police-­‐Marawi City, and the Commission on Human Rights have all said that Cardeño committed suicide, but the circumstances surrounding his death and injuries he sustained indicated that he was tortured and killed, as the independent factfinding mission of Karapatan and his relatives have reported. Cardeño had ligature marks, contusions, hemorrhages around the neck, a deep wound on the upper right part of his neck, three injuries on his head and blood clot underneath his scalp, five deep and burnt puncture wounds on his feet, on the left inner part of both legs and on the upper right arm. Cardeño also had an enlarged scrotum and enlarged opening of his anus. 

More than a month after Cardeño’s death, Capt. Javier Ignacio, an integree of the Philippine Army, a friend of Cardeño who recruited him for the job, was gunned down. Ignacio helped Cardeño’s family shed light on Gregan’s mysterious death.

Your Honors, the current situation of human rights violations committed with impunity in the country is already bad as it is. The VFA, and now the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) worsen the situation. The question of jurisdiction on the case and custody of the perpetrators, the same questions raised during the case of Nicole and now in Jennifer’s. The political will of the current administration to prosecute fully the case is also questionable given the skewed political relationship between the US and Philippine governments. 

We also take great offense at the statements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense that the case of Jennifer should not be taken as an indictment of the VFA because the agreement has many advantages for the country. Pray tell, what these advantages are? The wanton violation of people’s rights? The so-­‐called modernization of an armed force which has only served to defend US interests in the country and in the Asia Pacific region? The subjugation of our own laws and national interests to that of the US’s military and foreign affairs protocols? These AFP and DND statements are not only insensitive to the victims and their families, but are demeaning to the Filipino people’s rights and sovereignty. 
Lastly, we enjoin the Senate to: 
a) Assert the country’s sovereign laws and interests in the case of Jennifer Laude by taking action to ensure that the custody, trial, detention and serving of sentence of the perpetrator of the crime against her be under the full jurisdiction of Philippine authorities; 
b) Reopen the various cases of human rights violations committed by US soldiers in the Philippines and prosecute the perpetrators; 
c) Junk the US-­‐RP Visiting Forces Agreement and all lopsided military and economic agreements between the US and the Philippine government; and 
d) Ensure that the rights of LGBTs, women and children are respected and promoted in law and in practice in the country and outside of it. ###