“How many Jennifers, how many Nicoles are we going to wait for?”
By JANESS ANN J. ELLAO
OLONGAPO CITY — When internationally acclaimed theater actress Monique Wilson learned of the brutal killing of Jennifer Laude, a Filipina transgender, she knew that it would be among the many cases of atrocities committed against the Filipino people with impunity.
“How many Jennifers, how many Nicoles are we going to wait for?” Wilson told Bulatlat.com, as she joined protesters in Olongapo city on Oct. 17.
Laude was found dead in a hotel room on Oct. 11. She was last seen with US Private 1st Class Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton.
In 2005, Suzette Nicolas or “Nicole”, was raped by US Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, who, like Pemberton, was in the country to attend joint military exercises under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
Wilson, who had come out on being a lesbian, said Laude’s killing was very painful to hear.
“What is the value of one human life compared to another coming from elsewhere?” she said, adding that all Filipinos should be engaged because “Jennifer’s story is our story.”
“It is the story of our country, story of our sovereignty. Why did we struggle for independence for so long when it does not really mean independence?” Wilson, said, “We cannot let it pass by.”
Servitude to US
Wilson said that fighting violence against women and children does not stop with the issue of sexual assaults.
Sexual violence is just the surface, said Wilson, who is also the director of One Billion Rising, a global campaign to end gender-based violence.
“There is a whole economic context why it happens and with impunity,” she added.
For one, she said, the US government exploits the country by keeping it in need instead of helping it rise. Such, she added, has led to corporate greed and plundering of its resources.
“We are rising against imperialism and government’s neglect of its people. The signing of VFA and Edca (Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement) is a proof of their absolute neglect of the people,” Wilson said.
Edca is a military agreement signed between the US and Philippine government shortly before US president Barack Obama’s visit in the country this year. Under Edca, the Philippines gives “temporary basing” to US troops in “agreed locations” all over the country.
Critics said that Edca provisions are so vague that “agreed locations” would practically translate to the entire country.
Wilson said that many people are not aware of VFA and Edca and the lopsidedness of such agreements and how it affects their lives.
The fact, she said, that US soldiers coming to a city and feeling “entitled” to do their “rest and recreation” activities on women as if they are toys for their pleasure is in itself a problem.
“A government that does not care for its own people, that is in servitude to the US, that is what the (Laude) family is up against,” she said.
Wilson criticized the police for blocking protesters from the women’s group Gabriela during Pemberton’s first preliminary investigation.
“Filipinos have every right to be angry and they have the right to express it because it is just so unjust and unfair. Why are we the ones treated like criminals?” she said.
Filipinos, she said, deserve better than this.
“It is a lopsided agreement that allows the accused to walk free now. It is the lack of care from the government. Where are they now? Why is sympathy not accorded to the victim. Who is Filipino? Why is it that every action they take protect only the Americans,” she said.
On victim blaming
Wilson appealed to the public to stop judging Laude or even blame her for her death. She recalled how during the time of Nicole, the victim was blamed for her predicament than the accused Smith.
Many, she said, are asking if it is even legal to be a transgender. “But that is not the issue here. She was killed.”
One billion rising
Wilson said Laude’s killing would definitely be a part of the One Billion Rising, a global campaign against gender-based violence.
She added that she shared what happened to Laude with fellow OBR activists based in the United States and all of them were asking what the US military are doing in the Philippines in the first place.
“They do not know (why they are here). Their media is also skewed and do not report this. Laude’s killing has not been reported in the mainstream media but they learned about it through online news. But why not? It should be a big story here and abroad because it is their military,” Wilson said.
She added that “you can ask any OBR or V-Day activist and they will be just alarmed and angry as us.”
Wilson urged her fellow women rights activist in the US to question their government why they are here in the Philippines in the first place.
“We are all connected in this narrative,” she said.
In the US, she added, many women workers, such as those working in restaurants, are prone to sexual violence, receive measly pay and live on tips.
“It’s not always great for them either,” she said.
Pledge to family
Wilson said there is a need to stand in solidarity with the family as they are in a very difficult situation. She added that the family should never feel isolated.
“The US has all the resources, all the connection and all the power in the world to bring the case to where it wants to lead it. We need to be vigilant. And more than that, we need to extend solidarity,” she said.
Wilson added that it is very hard to be in the public’s eye and hear people say bad things against their loved ones.
The family, she said, needs time to grieve. “But a death this violent is different. That would make the grieving process even longer,” Wilson added.
In a related development, Laude’s fiancée Marc Sueselbeck was barred from leaving the country Oct. 26, after the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) filed charges against him. The German national, along with Laude’s sister Marilou, entered the fenced area of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) compound in Camp Aguinaldo where Pemberton was transferred on Oct. 22.
Sueselbeck had apologized for the incident, in which he also shoved a Filipino soldier. The soldier was given a plaque of honor by the AFP on Oct. 27.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said barring Sueselbeck meant enforcing the law and upholding the nation’s integrity.
Despite being up against the US government and a Philippine government, whose officials have so far proven no empathy for its own people, Wilson said Laude’s family is not totally helpless.
“We are loud, resolute and knowledgeable. Look at the activists who travelled all the way here. Their perseverance to go to the port, meet the family, build alliances is very amazing,” she said.
She added that there is a need to educate the public and keep their eye on the ball as both the US and Philippine governments are good at diverting issues.