These are not the best of times, and this country is not the fun place the tourism posters say it is—not for many Filipinos who feel they’re getting poorer and poorer each day, not for human rights defenders nor political activists who’re being harassed and killed, and certainly not for the LGBT community.
In the latest Social Weather Stations survey, self-rated poverty increased in Metro Manila from a previous 37 percent to 43 percent. In the rest of Luzon it was 52 from 45 percent. Meanwhile, self-rated food poverty was up from 27 percent to 30 percent in Metro Manila and from 32 percent to 37 percent in the rest of Luzon.
The International Network for Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) of New York, USA says it is seriously concerned about the alleged harassment and intimidation of human rights defenders in the Philippines, among them a union leader whom it fears could be targeted for extra-judicial killing. ESCR-Net pointed out that 11 other labor leaders have been killed in the Philippines since early this year.
The killing of journalists is continuing as well, with four killed for their work this year, bringing the total of those killed during the Aquino administration to 27. Neither has the killing and harassment of political activists stopped, and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has expressed “deep concern” over “the continued detention of four political activists and five poor farmers” charged with murder. “They allegedly attacked a police station,” said AHRC, “killing two policemen and wounding three others. Paraffin tests show they never fired a gun. Nevertheless, the prosecutor recommended indicting them because the evidence does not ‘prove that they were innocent.’”
A murder is the most recent concern in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community, which has noted an increase in hate crimes against its members. Jennifer Laude, as the whole country has come to know, was killed in Olongapo City last October 11, allegedly by a US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was in the Philippines for the usual joint military exercises with Philippine troops under the terms of the Visiting Forces Agreement.
Pemberton was apparently looking into the nightlife of which Olongapo is famous and which contributes to the presumption that, considering how many Filipinos are having a hard time of it, it’s more fun in the Philippines only for foreigners. If he did kill Laude, it was apparently in a fit of rage over the discovery that the latter was a transgender.
Pemberton has been charged with murder, the prosecution of which, says the Laude family lawyer, University of the Philippines College of Law Professor Harry Roque, is proving to be especially difficult. Pemberton hasn’t shown up for the preliminary investigation and any of the other hearings that have so far been held, and in addition hasn’t submitted his fingerprints and DNA samples.
Pemberton’s also still in US custody, his supposed detention area in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City being guarded by, among others, his fellow US soldiers, although the fiction is that he’s in Philippine custody because Camp Aquinaldo’s the headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. Nobody, certainly not the family of Laude or Roque, has seen hide nor hair of Pemberton, who, given how the Philippine government’s been babying him to the extent of not seriously demanding custody, could very well be out of the country by now and beyond the reach of the Philippines’ so-called justice system.
If some foreigners are more equal than Filipinos, some foreigners are apparently less equal than US soldiers. That is what’s happening to Marc Sueselbeck, the German fiancé of Laude, who’s practically being persecuted, in contrast to the coddling of Pemberton. Much of the country has seen Sueselbeck over the TV news programs, and he’s definitely still in the country, thanks to the AFP and the Bureau of Immigration–and, generally, to the imbecilities of which Philippine officialdom is famous.
If, taking its signals from the so-called President of the Philippines and his subalterns in the Departments of Foreign Affairs and National Defense, the bureaucracy would rather have Pemberton in US custody if not out of the country, the same bureaucracy wanted Sueselbeck in. Immigration prevented Sueselbeck from leaving the country for his native Germany last Sunday, October 26 –so, it turns out, they can deport him. Brilliant.
In one more indication of Philippine bureaucratic genius, Bureau of Immigration Commissioner Siegfried Mison actually claimed that the Bureau was doing him a favor by detaining him and possibly causing him to lose his job in Germany. It turned out that despite Sueselbeck’s apology, and the AFP’s accepting it, the AFP has accused Sueselbeck of “breaching security” in Camp Aguinaldo and of “assaulting” one of the guards there when he and members of the Laude family tried to get a glimpse of Pemberton in his supposed detention facility.
The AFP also pointedly decorated the soldier that Sueselbeck “assaulted”, honoring him for his “restraint”—implying thereby that so unusual is it for a soldier not to reach for his firearm when pushed that it deserves special mention. It has since been gunning not only for Sueselbeck but also for the Laudes’ lawyer Harry Roque, whom it now wants disbarred. The result of all these is confusion, in terms of the victims’ now seeming to be the villains, and the (putative) villain who battered and killed Laude the seeming victim, together with his protectors in the AFP and the Aquino administration.
We’ve been down this road before. During the martial law period when AFP bayonets kept the Marcos kleptocracy in power, it was customary for the AFP to blame the victims of its depradations on the victims themselves, and they’re still doing it today, not only to Sueselbeck but also to political activists, human rights defenders, reformist officials and those other Filipinos who dare think that there’s an alternative to the putrid reign in this country of clueless bureaucrats and their foreign patrons. If what’s happening to Sueselbeck is any indication, however, those foreigners who don’t belong in the latter category shouldn’t be expecting better treatment than Filipinos, but pretty much the same abuse.
First published in BusinessWorld. Photo from the Philippine Senate website.