Thursday, October 16, 2014

Thoughts on a toilet-bowl murder

Philippine Daily Inquirer/OPINION/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the Philippines and the United States will again be put to the test with the killing of Jeffrey/Jennifer Laude, a transgender, as media reports describe him/her.

(Laude would have surely preferred that a feminine pronoun be used to refer to him, but because there is no proof that he had legally changed his gender status, I will use the masculine pronoun in order to avoid the annoying forward slash.)

When the US naval and air force bases were voted out by the Philippine Senate and kicked out of Subic in Zambales and Clark in Angeles, Pampanga, more than 20 years ago (with a lot of help from Mount Pinatubo’s eruption after 600 years of dormancy), entertainment hubs there suddenly closed down.

Well, Clark has since evolved into an international airport, a hot-air balloon competition venue, etc. Subic, while also transformed, continues to be a docking place for ocean vessels. With the VFA in place, the night strips in Subic come alive again when US carriers disgorge thousands of service men just back from grueling jungle exercises, many of them seeking release for their raging hormones and pent-up rage, or to simply chill out.

The killing of Laude looks almost like a TV crime plot straight out of “NCIS” or “CSI.” Gross, to start with, but with a lot of political and gender underpinnings.

From what I know, the word “transgender” is sometimes used interchangeably with “transsexual.” While both the transgender and transsexual have given themselves a distinct womanly look, the transsexual has undergone surgery to change his genital makeup in order to be “fully woman.”

The “T” in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community can also refer to transsexuals. I don’t know if women who dress as men and have taken on male identities are also “Ts” or just “Ls.” I am told that the letter “I,” for intrasexual— whatever that means—is sometimes added to LGBT.

Laude’s case, which will surely go to court, will provide definitions and information on LGBTs. But more important, will “hate crime” be raised in court as an aggravating factor? Was the suspect, Marine PFC Joseph Scott Pemberton, so loaded with prejudice against LGBTs that he was predisposed to go violent if he saw one?

Many are now calling to mind the 2005 case of “Nicole,” who cried rape against US serviceman Daniel Smith, a case that roused advocates against violence against women (VAW) to come to her defense and rally in the streets in her behalf while Smith was nowhere in a Philippine prison but in his comfortable quarters in the US Embassy, no thanks to the VFA.

But after all that rallying and flag-waving for Nicole (a representation of Inang Bayan or the motherland, as some had stretched her image to be), she decided to walk away and say there was no rape. It was consensual sex, after all, she said. After the “trial of the decade” that put Philippine-American friendship ties under scrutiny, off she went to the land of milk and honey, leaving her pro bono lawyers stupefied. A good lesson there for advocates who presume a victim is as zealous for justice as her defenders.

Nicole is again often mentioned in the same breath as Laude. But Nicole’s case is different in that she, the victim and accuser, was alive to tell what happened or didn’t happen, while Laude is dead. There is only his family—and the LGBT community—to seek justice in his behalf.

The LGBT community is now raising the hate-crime angle.

Hate crime is defined as a crime targeted at and committed against a person because of hostility or prejudice toward that person’s sexual orientation, gender, race, disability, looks, ethnicity, religion, or beliefs. As if the victim, by just being himself/herself, and even with no provocation from him/her side, arouses hate that leads to violence.

Investigators surmise that the obvious rage of Laude’s killer may have arisen from his discovery that Laude was not a “full woman”—in short, that he had been had. Didn’t the killer know who he was taking to bed, if sex for pay it was between them? Or did he go out there to seek someone like Laude to kill?

Laude was killed in a bathroom in a so-called lodge where pairs go to spend private time together. Laude and Pemberton were last seen together by the former’s friends (and also in CCTV footage) an hour or so before he was found dead, in a state of undress. His killer drowned him in a toilet bowl but also used other violent means to end his life. His body was easily discovered because the room’s door was left ajar, obviously by the one who killed him who left in a rush.

Why the rage when the pair had just met? Jealousy or the love-triangle angle can easily be ruled out. It looked like a sex-for-pay transaction, not a lovers’ tryst that ended in a fierce fight.

It will be hard for Pemberton to put up an alibi and say he was not the killer. If he pleads innocent, what would be his defense? Self-defense? Temporary insanity? If he pleads guilty to a lesser crime (say, homicide, not murder), what would be the scenario he will paint?

Laude is cold and dead. He cannot clear Pemberton the way Nicole turned her back on the women’s rights advocates who rallied for her. Not even Laude’s family can absolve him. The court will decide.

If he is found guilty, where will Pemberton serve his sentence? Will he, like Smith, also freely sail away to “the land of the free and the home of the brave”?

Fiat justitia ruat caelum. Let justice be done though the heavens fall.#