As a former US Marine, I am disgusted to learn about the killing of Filipina transgender woman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo City, with USMC Private Joseph Scott Pemberton as the prime suspect. I am saddened and disgusted about the very real possibility that another citizen has lost their life to a fellow Marine and that justice and accountability will be just words and not actions.
I will forever be haunted by my participation in committing gross human rights violations against the Iraqi people in 2003. It caused me post-traumatic distress that I am still healing from. As a result, I have committed the rest of my life to working for peace for all peoples facing US military intervention.
News of Jennifer’s killing comes just a few months after my return from the Philippines, where I participated in a peace mission looking into the impact of US military intervention in the country.
Visiting Olongapo City and later the Bangsamoro territories of Mindanao, I learned about the violent and oppressive history of US military presence in the Philippines. It’s a history that spans over a century, beginning with a war in 1898 that annihilated over a quarter of the Philippine population. It is also a history of permanent US military basing that has not only undermined Philippine sovereignty, but endangers the lives and livelihood of the Filipino people themselves.
The Visiting Forces Agreement, or VFA, signed in 1998, allows the rotational US military basing throughout the Philippines. Tied to the VFA are numerous documented incidents of abuses committed by US military personnel in the Philippines that have gone unprosecuted because these military agreements are one-sided and protect US military personnel.
I learned of numerous incidents—including the case of Buyong-Buyong Isnijal, an unarmed Filipino civilian shot and killed by a US soldier in Basilan back in 2002, the gang rape of Suzette “Nicole” Nicolas by 4 US marines in 2005, the death of Gregan Cardeno, the Filipino interpreter hired by US troops but was found dead in 2010 the morning in after he called his wife with fear in his voice telling her he could not perform the tasks being asked of him, the US drone strike that killed 15 Tausug villagers in Jolo Island in 2012, and the list goes on.
This year, President Obama signed a new military agreement with Philippine President Aquino. The Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement or EDCA, essentially expands US military basing throughout the Philippines.
Both governments claim that increasing US military presence in the Philippines is needed to modernize the Armed Forces of the Philippines and protect the country from the looming military threat and territorial incursions of China. Some have even invoked the fact that the US military delivered humanitarian relief for victims of Typhoon Haiyan last year.
But the truth is U.S. foreign policy is not devoted to enforcing high moral standards. It only works to extend political and economic hegemony. It fulfills a safeguard for U.S. corporate interest.
As someone who participated in the so-called “humanitarian intervention” of Iraq, I and many other US war veterans can attest that the US military is not and will never be in the business of helping others. The US military is the business of war and hegemony. We are trained to kill and to do so we must dehumanize the population in the countries we invade and occupy.
The EDCA is part of a larger US military pivot to the Asia-Pacific region announced by the Obama government in 2012.
This pivot will not be a boots-on-the-ground invasion. Based on what I saw in Mindanao, it will be robotic in form and will rely heavily on drones and unmanned surveillance systems. It will rely on counter-insurgency and pacification of resistance movements under the guise of a so-called “peace process” and/or “development projects”.
The VFA serves as a major obstruction to justice for Jennifer Laude, just as it continues to obstruct justice for Buyong-Buyong Isnijal, Suzette Nicolas, Gregan Cardeno, and countless others.
There is a vibrant movement for genuine national sovereignty in the Philippines that is also calling for justice for Jennifer Laude. With my experiences both in Iraq and the Philippines, I believe peace starts with respect for the sovereignty of nations. It must start with a position of non-intervention, non-interference, and respect for self-determination.
Just as the Filipino people are calling on their government to abrogate the VFA, so must we here in the US pressure our government to do so. We cannot tolerate our tax dollars funding US policies that enforce neocolonialism overseas.
U.S. military authorities must cooperate fully with Filipino investigators in solving the murder of Jennifer. The first step in doing so, is to surrender Pemberton to the Philippine authorities.
I stand in solidarity with the Iraqi and Filipino people. I, too, cry justice for Jennifer.
Ramon Mejia is a former US Marine, and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW).
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