For Filipino and American officials, “there can’t be a worse timing” in the murder of Jennifer Laude allegedly by a US Marine, later identified as Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton. The Philippines and the US are discussing the implementation of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), signed early this year. It will allow the US to build more military bases and station more troops in the Philippines through so-called “agreed locations”. But the possible involvement of a US Marine in a heinous crime will make the already controversial EDCA contentious even more.
Olongapo City, where Laude was brutally killed, is among EDCA’s expected “agreed locations”. In less than a decade, Olongapo has now seen two high-profile criminal cases involving US soldiers. In 2005, Lance Corporal Daniel Smith raped a Filipina there while fellow marines cheered him on. The city’s Subic Bay has been a frequent host to US warships and troops that participate in military exercises through the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). Subic Bay used to be a US naval base until 1992. But the Americans, through the VFA and now, EDCA, really never left it.
For our Defense department, the Laude murder is an “isolated case” and should not be blamed on EDCA or the VFA. But the growing presence of US troops in Subic and other parts of the country has resulted in increasing incidents of criminal acts done by American soldiers. Aside from the rape and murder in Olongapo, US troops were also implicated in less publicized incidents of criminal acts.
One was the Gregan Cardeño case in 2010. Cardeño was an interpreter hired by an elite unit of US Special Forces called the Liaison Coordination Elements (LCE). He was found dead inside a Joint Special Operation Task Force (JSOTF) facility in Camp Ranao in Marawi City on Feb. 2, 2010 after allegedly committing suicide. Less than two months later, Capt. Javier Ignacio of the Philippine Army – a friend of the Cardeños helping to shed light on his death – was shot dead by unidentified gun men. Before his death, Cardeño separately called his sister and wife and told them that his job was “hard and not what he expected”. Ignacio, meanwhile, was killed while on his way to meet human rights groups to execute an affidavit on what he discovered about Cardeño’s death.
Another was the Abham Juhurin case in 2012. Juhurin and his son were on their small fishing boat off Hadji Mutamad town in Basilan when the US military speedboat Mark V hit them. Juhurin was killed while his son suffered injuries. Philippine military authorities quickly absolved the Americans, claiming that the fishing boat had no lights. No investigation was conducted to determine the liability of the US troops as the Americans quickly sought a financial settlement with Juhurin’s family.
Laude’s death is an isolated case? There is clearly a pattern of atrocities against civilians whenever and wherever there is US military presence.
In Okinawa, Japan, host to about 26,000 US troops, some 5,584 criminal cases involving American soldiers have been reported. The cases include murder and rape, among others. There was a gang rape of a 12-year old girl by three US service personnel. The latest rape case was just last year where the US soldiers also robbed their victim.
Worse, like in the Philippines such as in the Subic rape case, US soldiers found guilty of sex crimes in Japan did not go to prison, according to an Associated Press (AP) report early this year. Offenders were simply fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or removed from the military. In about 30 cases, a letter of reprimand was the only punishment, said the AP article. It added: “Even when military authorities agreed a crime had been committed, the suspect was unlikely to serve time. Of 244 service members whose punishments were detailed in the records, only a third of them were incarcerated.”
Just a couple of months ago, US troops in Seoul, South Korea were accused of “inappropriate behavior”. On May 31, 2014, two American soldiers sexually harassed two female employees in a local theme park and assaulted their male co-worker. Intoxicated, the US soldiers refused to cooperate with the police, punching one officer and spitting in his face, according to reports.
These are just the latest incidents of abuse by US troops in South Korea, which also include the rape of an 18-year old girl in 2011. Government data show that there is a rising crime rate among US servicemen in the country. Between 2000 and 2010, rapes rose from zero to 11; burglaries from 9 to 24; and violent crime in general from 118 to 154, according to authorities. US officials dismissed the figures as “low” considering that they have 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea. What arrogance!
US military presence is supposed to guarantee our security. But the brutal murder of Laude reminds us that the presence of US troops is a threat to the security of our own people. That we can’t have custody over a criminal US soldier reminds us how our supposed friend and ally utterly disrespect our sovereignty as a country.
With the VFA and EDCA, and the overall submissiveness of our foreign policy to US interests, there will be more Jennifer Laudes. The next victim of US atrocities could be a transgender, or a woman; it could be a farmer, or a fisherman; maybe even a child.