By Naomi Fontanos
The Pemberton verdict embodies the injustice that Filipinos of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE) including their families face when they fall victim to heinous crimes such as murder. It was appalling to witness on live TV Judge Roline Jinez Jabalde ruling US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton guilty beyond reasonable doubt of the crime of homicide, a degree lower than the murder that Pemberton clearly committed and was accused of, in killing Jennifer Laude. The mitigating circumstances used as a bases for this downgrade essentially affirm that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) Filipinos are indeed second-class citizens in the Philippines when seeking redress and trying to access justice.
Judge Jabalde’s verdict was not a punishment for Pemberton but a punishment for Jennifer Laude, for being transgender. By consistently referring to Jennifer Laude as male in her decision, Judge Jabalde was trying to make a case that Jennifer Laude was ultimately at fault for not having the genitalia that Pemberton claimed he thought she had and therefore must be blamed for her own demise. The realization that Jennifer Laude was a transwoman resulted in Pemberton’s “obfuscation,” that combined with passion, justifies Jennifer Laude’s homicide.
We are also dismayed that Judge Jabalde allowed Pemberton’s “intoxication” as another mitigating circumstance. Because Pemberton’s judgment was impaired by alcohol, the court has extended him leniency. We also disagree that Pemberton did not use superior strength in killing Jennifer Laude when clearly his military background could explain this.
The message that this verdict is sending is truly disturbing. For the trans community in the Philippines, this ruling has made our lives more vulnerable because what this judgment is saying is that transgender people are inherently deceitful. By affirming our gender identities and living as a gender other than the one assigned to us at birth, we should be blamed for any kind of harm that befalls us. This is also telling us that, in the end, we cannot rely on our own justice system when it will hold us liable for living out our truth.
This also affirms the message that state institutions can continue to perpetrate our marginalization in society with impunity. For foreign nationals, this ruling is telling them that they can commit crimes without compunction in the Philippines. As long as there are mitigating circumstances in their crime, they will always have a chance to go unpunished.
For the international community, this judgment is proof of the dire human rights situation in the Philippines – from the Maguindanao massacre, to the deaths of the SAF 44 in Mamasapano, to the murder of Jennifer Laude – our government institutions seem too weak to ensure that justice is properly and correctly served.
The December 1, 2015 ruling finding Pemberton guilty of homicide is a grave injustice, a hint of how widespread, pervasive, and entrenched it truly is in Philippine society.
Naomi Fontanos heads Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) FIlipinas, a human rights organization that promotes the dignity and equality of transgender people in the Philippines and beyond.