Death and the transgender

Trade Tripper
Jemy Gatdula

Posted on October 24, 2014

THE DEATH of a Filipino transgender, allegedly at the hands of a US serviceman, has sparked a profound debate within the country on the nature of gender identity and our society’s treatment of it. This, it must be remembered, is coming within the context of a then ongoing (but now concluded) and yet equally controversial “extraordinary” Synod of the Catholic Church on the family.

Immediately, one point of contention raised was how to identify the victim, born Jeffrey Laude but who began calling himself “Jennifer” after he decided he was a transgender and had his appearance altered to look like a woman. The LGBT advocates, feminist groups, and others from the Left demanded that he be called Jennifer, citing as reason that it was what Jeffrey wanted. The other reason is that looking at foreign international media’s guidelines (e.g., the Associated Press stylebook), respect is urged for the “pronoun preferred by the individuals who have acquired the physical characteristics of the opposite sex or present themselves in a way that does not correspond with their sex at birth.”

But that raises further questions. Since when have foreign newspaper stylebooks been binding on the Philippines? Considering further our almost automatic reaction to shout “sovereignty” at every opportunity against foreigners.

So if foreign stylebooks are not mandatory and binding, what is? What should compel everybody (bullied actually) -- as the LGBT community, feminist groups, and the Left want -- to call Laude other than his given name found in government and official papers?

Because unless there’s contrary proof, every legal official document or record has him as Jeffrey Laude and lists him as “male.” Should everyone therefore be forced to adjust factual or official reporting simply because of a person’s feelings or the demand of “progressive” activists?

If he did call himself by another name, how different is that from an alias or stage name? And again, what legal basis should a mere say-so be controlling over the rest of the country? The so-called Yogyakarta Principles are not international law and are without legal effect. It’s even been rejected in a UN General Assembly vote. And our own Supreme Court emphatically ruled that a person’s sex is “immutable” (Silverio vs. Republic).

And contrary to what the media say, there is unfortunately a notable dearth of categorical medical conclusions regarding transgenders. And, at best, country studies have shown that transgender populations would be less than 1%, with the ever-present possibility that a transgender would later choose to re-identify with his or her original sexual identity (there are known instances of transgenders doing that).

So do we conform our news reporting and legal documentation based on a person’s unilateral choice?

But if anyone says everyone should be followed based on one’s own say-so, well, try saying that again when a woman gets harassed in a public bathroom by a large burly man claiming to be a lesbian. Because transgenderism does not necessarily have anything to do with sexual orientation. One can be a transgender and yet still have sexual desires for another of the opposite or same sex. And, to repeat, the science on this is not conclusive.

However, it must also be asked: what does Laude’s being a transgender have to do with this criminal case? A human being was murdered. Period. Objectively speaking, his being a declared transgender may serve as a mitigating or aggravating circumstance for the accused. That’s it. Even assuming that this is indeed a “hate crime” (assuming further it exists in our laws), this still needs to be backed up by facts.

Having said that, what does the Visiting Forces Agreement have anything to do with this? The serviceman allegedly committed the crime off-duty. The Philippines has prosecuted him, for which there will be a trial. Granted, the US has custody of him. But the same goes for a Filipino serviceman in the US who committed a crime. The Philippines would also retain custody of its soldier. That is under the VFA as well.

But this one case should be taken within the context that of the thousands of foreigners visiting our country, only around 200 foreigners have been convicted of crimes on our shores and jailed. Compare that with the hundreds of violent crimes committed against American, Japanese or Korean visitors each year.

And take the context of the thousands of rape cases in our country. In 2010, a total of 4,572 cases of rape were documented by the Women and Children Protection Center of the Philippine National Police (WCPC-PNP), 19 of which were incestuous or perpetrated by a victim’s blood relative. The true figures, however, could be much higher.

People, for whatever reason, are getting passionate about this case. Mostly, however, to push their ideological agenda. But we must not lose sight of the tragic fact that a fellow human being was killed. And it does nobody good when we act beyond reason.

Jemy Gatdula specializes in international economic law (WTO and ASEAN), and teaches international law and legal philosophy at the UA&P School of Law and Governance.



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