Calling on USians to Memorialize Jennifer Laude, Call for American Withdrawal from the Philippines
To the brave comrades of Turtle Island:
Last year, we asked antifascists in the U.S. to act for us in commemorating our slain sister Jennifer Laude, killed by an American soldier. While there was some commemoration and remembrance of Jennifer Laude, this was done after her death anniversary on October 11 because the initial open letter calling for the commemoration initially fell on deaf ears. Earlier, Filipino/a/x autonomists, anarchists, and abolitionists in the so-called Philippines and its diasporas wrote an open letter asking US anti-fascists to resist the return of the murderer of Jennifer Laude to the United States, but his return was not resisted, and we received no report of any action protesting his return.
Let us review the facts for our comrades in Turtle Island:
Joseph Scott Pemberton committed a heinous hate crime by brutally murdering Jennifer Laude on October 11, 2014. Jennifer was murdered precisely because she was transgender, with Pemberton’s legal team even trying the so-called “trans panic” defense as a justification for her murder. The Philippine state appears to have sided with Pemberton’s excuse that Jennifer’s identity was a provocation in itself, inducing Pemberton to kill her. This defense frames Pemberton as the victim and sets a dangerous precedent for trans women in the archipelago and beyond.
Jennifer Laude is fondly remembered as a beautiful person who was confident in her identity and sexuality. She was well-loved by her family and friends and her nickname was “Ganda” meaning “beautiful.” However, Pemberton did not care for Jennifer Laude as a human being. He was unrepentant at his trial, even going so far as to dehumanize Jennifer Laude by referring to her as “it.”
Pemberton’s case was discussed again when the Philippine government considered him for an early release due to “good conduct” in early September, a charge that the Laude family questioned on the grounds that Pemberton could not have proved good behavior. Indeed, how could Pemberton have proven his “good conduct” if he had not interacted with any prisoner in his specially-designed cell?
The point is now moot, as Pemberton has received an absolute pardon from then-president Rodrigo Duterte. He can now walk free, absolved of any criminal liability. We have no doubt that the government of the United States has had a hand in Duterte’s granting of absolute pardon unto Pemberton.
As anti-fascists, we know all too well how the state employs a double standard in its policing between the privileged and the dispossessed. Pemberton’s whiteness protected him from facing any meaningful consequences, just as whiteness protected countless murderers in the so-called United States. His case has been rife with special treatment from the beginning, and his pardon from Duterte only confirms that. This murderer has known nothing but lenience and special treatment in his trial and during his imprisonment. He was detained separately during his trial and was the only occupant of a Camp Aguinaldo detainment facility that was specially constructed for him after his conviction. As the pandemic ripped through overcrowded prisons, the state in the Philippines dragged its feet on releasing non-violent offenders and condemned countless prisoners to a slow death by COVID-19. Yet the white man, the U.S. national, the violent offender, and a prisoner at no risk of contracting COVID-19 was the one prioritized for release. Upon his return to the so-called United States, the U.S. government went on record stating that the murderer would not face court-martial in the country.
The reason Pemberton’s whiteness protected him was due to the imperialized position of the Philippines in the U.S. empire. Since the U.S. invasion of the so-called Philippines in 1898, U.S. troops have enjoyed free rein in the archipelago. Pemberton was in the Philippines due to Balikatan, annual military exercises between U.S. and Philippine armed forces — a recurring program established following the ratification of the 1999 Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The VFA is a reminder of the neocolonial presence of the United States in the Philippines. It allows for the presence of U.S. military personnel, aircraft, and vessels in the Philippines. It also complicates the custodial process for U.S. troops accused of committing crimes while in the archipelago. Though the Duterte administration moved to suspend the agreement earlier this year, Duterte reneged 3 months before pardoning Pemberton. Now, President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. revived the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA) and its VFA, promising to use the Philippines as a base for American imperialist interests in Asia.
Militarization of the archipelago by U.S. troops has been correlated time and again with violence and sexual assault against women and sex workers. The violence that occurs at the intersections of racism, sexism, fetishization, and dehumanization is compounded for trans women who experience violence simply for being trans.
We anti-fascists already know that there is no justice to be had from the state, whether Philippine or American. This transphobic murderer continues to walk free as far as the states in the Philippines and the United States are concerned, so we reiterate our call to anti-fascists in the so-called United States to act.
While U.S. anti-fascists acted valiantly in response to the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and stepped up and defended communities where the state willfully failed, we have heard very little to suggest that Filipino/a/x trans lives matter in response to the return of the murderer to his country.
It has been nine years since the murderer took Ganda away from her family. There is still time to make up for this injustice.
We are writing this letter to ask antifascists and radicals of all strips on Turtle Island to act where we Filipinos could not. When the Spanish colonial government suppressed our people and murdered José Rizal, the anarchist Michele Angiolillo assassinated the Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. When US President William McKinley conquered the Philippines and murdered our people by the thousands, he was assassinated in turn by anarchist Leon Czolgosz. We mention these examples of direct action not because we are asking you to kill the murderer of Laude, but rather to show you that the anarchist movement has historically acted where Filipinos cannot.
To be clear, we are not asking you to kill Joseph Scott Pemberton. As anarchists and abolitionists, we abhor such cycles of violence. Killing Pemberton will not bring Ganda back, nor will it be justice for the Trans and Queer comrades among us. What we want is this to never happen again. Do not allow Pemberton to forget the vile crime he committed. You must prevent Pemberton from committing harm again. You must petition Pemberton’s prospective universities and employers not to accept him because of his violent past. You must picket his home, workplaces, and schools with memorials to Jennifer Laude. You must reveal to the world what a hateful and spiteful little man he is. You must make his life hell.
In terms of social justice, you must organize for the United States to withdraw its military assets from our islands, the Philippines. Their hateful and imperialist military can never bring good to our country. The biggest reduction of sexual and intimate violence from American servicemen would be in terms of their total withdrawal from the Philippines.
Above all, we ask you to remember Jennifer Laude as a victim of white supremacy and include her in your commemorations of the victims of white supremacy. She must be spoken in the same sentences as George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and all other victims of U.S. imperialism and police violence. Remember her as Ganda, kind, and generous. Remember her family as brave and steadfast in their demands for justice. While Jennifer’s story is not well known in the so-called United States, the injustice surrounding her case deserves your anger and solidarity.
Filipinos/as/xs have thundered that trans lives matter and for justice for Jennifer Laude, but we regret that our voices were not joined by U.S. anti-fascists. Ganda’s death anniversary is on October 11. We expect you to remember. We expect you to act.
In anger and solidarity,
Filipino/a/x autonomists, anarchists, and abolitionists in the so-called Philippines and its diasporas