MARY SANDRINE BERNOS WRITES — Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, a transgender woman, was found dead in 2014 at a local motel in Olongapo City by U.S. Marine Joseph Pemberton. She was found in the bathroom, wrapped in a blanket and slumped over a toilet bowl, after the soldier, upon finding out that she was not biologically a woman, strangled her. The Philippine National Police and Naval Criminal Investigation Service immediately determined that Pemberton was the prime suspect, since surveillance footage at the nightclub showed that he had left the premises with Laude.

On the 8th of September,  Malacanang Palace pardoned Joseph Pemberton and facilitated his deportation to the United States, cutting short his 10-year sentence at the National Bilibid Prison in Manila. Since then, a collective of LQBTQA+ organizations, youth organizations, and progressive groups have condemned the pardon. In a unity statement, UP Babaylan, the leading LGBT student support group in the country, announced that  “President Duterte’s statement that Pemberton has suffered injustice when he served time in a special holding cell in Camp Aguinaldo for just five years and 10 months out of a 10-year jail sentence is unacceptable and ludicrous. Pemberton should have served time in the National Bilibid Prison, and the President could have granted presidential pardon to a Filipino instead of an American.” This group also firmly believes that the President took this step to cater to foreign interests that have already caused suffering, indignity, and injustice to many citizens of the Philippines.

Duterte’s dismissiveness of the LGBTQA+ community in the Philippines represents the attitude that many Filipino politicians seated have today, resulting in hate crimes and compromised rights. The Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) Equality Act, a  long standing bill of 20 years, has yet to be passed in order to protect the Filipino LGBTQA+ community from discrimination and harassment. Still, many lawmakers today rely heavily on religion and the “word of God,” making it impossible for a lot of laws to be passed related to reproductive health, access to contraceptives, sex education and more.

When will the Philippine government stop using the church and the Bible to justify laws that hinder the nation’s progress and its ability to protect its citizens?

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