May 27, 2017 02:58 AM PST
SINCE 2007

US murder PI

Thinking Out Aloud

Just when the United States thinks no one in the Philippines is looking anymore, just when the superpower across the Pacific thinks that Filipinos have moved on past their country’s historically deep and subaltern social, economic, and military relationship with their former colonial master, it finds a way to make the relationship one that Filipinos find hard to live with.

A US Marine in the Philippines was recently accused of murdering 26-year old Jennifer Laude, a transgender Filipino. Thisshockingincidentfocused the US-Philippine military partnership onthe pressing question as to the legitimate need for Washington’s post-Cold War reassertion of military prowess on Philippine territory.

It shouldn’t be surprising that an American serviceman could ever hope to get away with killing a Filipino local while on leave given the inequitable provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). The agreement formalizes the contract between Manila and Washington permitting the latter to hold military exercises in the former’s territory. But it also legalizes moves by US officials to detain American military personnel for crimes allegedly committed but yet unproven in the Philippines by due course of law.

Long since leaving the Philippines in 1991, the US military has searched for ways to re-establish its presence in the country.To that end, Washington and Manila signed the VFA in 1998. Under the impression that the treaty would be fair to both countries, Filipino lawmakers ensured that any US personnel could be indicted of a crime according to the VFA’s stipulations. But this came with a caveat: the US could maintain custody over any individuals charged with a crime under Philippine law until the legal process was concluded.

Filipino leftist activists along with flag-waving conservatives are typically fond of carpingagainst the US military presence in the Philippines. The Laude case, involving 19-year old US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, has only given activists and nationalists plainly opposed to the presence of American forces more grist for the mill.Indeed, the issue has put US-Philippine relations back on the assembly line of recycled reasons for a former colony to be wary of its former colonial ruler.

To be fair, the US and the Philippines have been able to reach an awkward but essential compromise over Pemberton’s status. Originally incarcerated on an American naval vessel in Olongapo City, Pemberton has since been moved to Camp Aguinaldo in Manila, a facility belonging to the Philippine military. Custody of Pemberton will belong to the US military as part of the aforementioned compromise which includes his immediate guards being US military personnel.

We may not want to admit or acknowledge it, but the US military presence is vital to the safety and security of the Philippines, what with the potential threat of Chinese nationalist expansionism just beyond the horizon. Unable to thwart this threat on its own, if it ultimately emerges as a genuine one, the Philippines cannot sensibly argue against the US presence.

From the pro/con divide, Filipino “con” activists and nationalists won’t stop their spasmodic protestations to affect the US presence in the direction they desire, which is out of the country. While they have strong points in expounding on what is wrong about the Stars and Stripes military relationship with the Philippines, rather than righting the ship and evening things out for the better, activists and nationalists want to expel all American military and equipment and that simply won’t do, not according to geopolitical realities.

Nationalistically-intuitive views aside, it is possible to have a US military presence in the Philippines that attends to the interests of both countries without it having to be oriented more to one side than the other. Now that the Laude/Pemberton case has become the latest cause célèbre for Filipino activists and nationalists, and as it grows in intensity, the inevitable angle expected to be taken by them is to call for the abolition of the VFA and for the removal of all US military personnel in the Philippines. In a perfect geopolitical world, this would be right for no country wants foreign troops on its soil if it can be avoided. But that’s just it: in our far-from-perfect geopolitical world, yelling Yankee Go Home while the Red Dragon awaits its turn on the territorial roulette wheel is asking for nothing but trouble.

(Allen Gaborro is a freelance writer based in San Francisco. He has composed numerous articles on Philippine history, culture, politics, and literature. He is currently working on a manuscript for a novel about the Philippines.)