Filipina transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, left, was allegedly killed by US Marine Sgt. Joseph Scott Pemberton,, right. The ensuing protests over yet another US military person charged with abuse or murder of Filipinas has created a suspension of “normal” US visits to the Philippines
MANILA, Philippines–Three US Navy ships have canceled their scheduled port visits to the country this month for operational reasons, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said on Monday.
“The reconsideration of the port visits is a normal occurrence as US ships are deployed in many areas in the Pacific and are subject to changing operational requirements,” DFA spokesman Charles Jose said at a press briefing, citing a US Embassy diplomatic note.
The Inquirer reported Monday that the Subic Bay Freeport Chamber of Commerce had said that nine US vessels had scrapped scheduled port calls because of “anti-American sentiments” stemming from the slaying of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude on Oct. 11 in an Olongapo City motel.
US Marine Pfc. Joseph Scott Pemberton is under detention at Camp Aguinaldo in connection with the killing, which has provoked new protests by leftist groups against the United States and calls for the scrapping of the Visiting Forces Agreement between Manila and Washington.
Jose said he had no information on the status of six other US ships.
Asked whether the cancellations had to do with the anti-American protests, Jose repeated the reason given by the US Embassy that cited operational reasons.
“Maybe they’ve decided to send their ships to another place for repair and not in the Philippines,” Jose said. “We don’t see the ongoing case to be a reason,” he added, referring to the Laude slaying.
The Subic chamber said its members had expressed disappointment at the loss of potential revenues from US sailors on shore leave.
Earlier, US Ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg told reporters that “out of respect to the sentiments” of Filipinos, US authorities had not given liberty time to crew members during the recent overnight visit of the aircraft carrier USS George Washington in Manila.
In Olongapo City, Buklod Center Inc., an organization that helps women lured into prostitution, welcomed the reported cancellations.
“If they will not come here, women, especially those working in nightclubs, will not be abused or exploited,” Alma Bulawan, Buklod’s executive director, told the Inquirer on Monday.
Bulawan said her group, established in 1987, had been working hard over the years to erase the bad image of Olongapo as a “sin city.”
The Americans left their military bases in the country after the Philippine Senate rejected the extension of the Philippine-US military bases agreement in 1991. The bases have since been turned into economic zones.
“We’ve proven to the world that we’re better off without them,” Bulawan said.
Buklod has been helping women who used to work in nightclubs and bars in Olongapo to find alternative sources of income, like handicraft.
“We want bar women to understand that their lives are at risk in the hands of American customers. [Many of these] servicemen have the tendency to become really violent, especially when they are drunk and I personally know that,” said Bulawan, a former bar worker.