Transgender group to gov't: Pass laws to protect LGBT

MANILA, Philippines – The death of Jennifer Laude was the second murder of a Filipino transgender woman in under a month, according to the Association of Transgender People in the Philippines (ATP).

Because of this, the advocacy group is urging the government to take more proactive measures to protect members of the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) community.

Dindi Tan, head of ATP's committee on political-legal and inter-organizational affairs, said on Sunday, October 19, that the government should immediately pass the Anti-Discrimination Bill and Gender Recognition Bill to help prevent hate crimes against the transgender community.

On October 11, 26-year-old Laude was found dead in the bathroom of Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City. Police found her head "leaning" against the toilet bowl while her "lower body was partially covered with a color cream blanket."

According to police reports, Laude died "due to asphyxia by drowning" and was a victim of a "crime of hatred." 

Threat to trans community

Tan said Laude's death was the second such case in under a month.

Last September 23, the body of 27-year-old call center agent Norlan Cielo Mercado was discovered in an apartment in Caloocan City.

The autopsy report showed Mercado was killed 3 days earlier from 18 stabs wound in the chest, back, and head.

Tan said the deaths are a clear example of hate crimes targeted against the transgender community. She added that many more are vulnerable to the same threat.

"Losing a trans sister in the community speaks volumes about how trans-Pinays in the country are still fighting hard for government recognition and the protection of our rights. I can't help wondering: How many more Jennifers do we have to lose just for the government to start taking affirmative measures to protect LGBT welfare?" she said.

ATP has started to document cases of discrimination and gender-based violence against transgender Filipinos, according to Tan.

The group has also been pushing to get local government units to craft their own anti-discrimination ordinances. They are also conducting seminars and community dialogues to empower members of the transgender community. (READ: LGBT activists: 'Recognize transgender rights in the Philippines now')

But Tan said that the national government has to do its part as well.

"The rising incidents of [hate] crimes against our persons is [indicative of] a virtual ticking bomb waiting to explode unless the government passes national legislation like the Anti-Discrimination Bill and Gender Recognition Bill that would effectively address cases of this nature," she said.

Tan added: "There's a huge difference between being accepted and being tolerated." (READ: Is the Philippines really gay-friendly?)

Political will needed

Last week, Laude's family filed a murder complaint against US Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, identified by witnesses as the last person seen with Laude at Celzone Lodge.

The lodge's cashier earlier told police that Pemberton had left the room several minutes before Laude's body was found.

Pemberton is currently held on board USS Peleliu, but the Philippines has said that it wants to get the American soldier under custody.

Prosecutors have ordered Pemberton to appear before the Olongapo City prosecutor's office on October 21 to answer the murder complaint.

The US embassy vowed to cooperate with Philippine authorities on the probe, but said the decision on Pemberton's appearance is up to his lawyers.

Meanwhile, activists have called for the junking of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and demanded that Pemberton be handed over to Philippine authorities.

Tan decried the slow pace of the proceedings, and said the Philippine government can and should do more.

"There's a big difference between really having the "political will" to request full cooperation from the US Government as against declaring motherhood statements that have no teeth to resolve the case," Tan said. 

"We believe that there has to be an all out pronouncement from Malacañang that outlines the "aggressive" steps that they will take to make sure that justice is served without delay," Tan added. –