Members of the LGBT community in Manila hold a protest march and prayer service to mark the first anniversary of the killing of transgender woman Jeffrey "Jennifer" Laude on Oct. 11. (Photo by George Moya)
Protestant groups in the Philippines have joined calls for justice for a transgender woman who was allegedly killed by an American serviceman a year ago in Olongapo City.
"Justice remains elusive to Jeffrey 'Jennifer' Laude a year after her murder," said Ryan Mendoza, program coordinator of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines.
In an Oct. 11 statement, the country's Protestant churches blamed the presence of U.S. military forces in the Philippines for the "direct exploitation of women and children."
Laude's killing sparked outrage in the country, with activist groups calling for the repeal of a U.S.-Philippines military agreement that allows U.S. military presence in the country.
In Olongapo City, some 300 friends and members of gender rights groups carried banners in a "remembrance walk" to Laude's grave.
"All we want now is justice," said Julita Laude, the victim's mother.
In Manila, council members joined the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community in a prayer service marking the anniversary of Laude's death.
"We are all Jennifer Laude wanting to break free from poverty and the power of indebtedness, to break free from the judgmental and violent society," read a statement of the Metropolitan Community Church.
"We are holding an ecumenical Christian memorial prayer service to renew our call for justice for the murder of Jennifer," said Kakay Pamaran, a minister from that church.
Pamaran said the murder of Laude is a "justice issue, an LGBT issue and an issue of national sovereignty."
The national council of churches said in its statement that because of the U.S.-Philippine military agreement, U.S. military personnel who face charges in the country have been treated "differentially."
Laude's case is being heard in a local court in Olongapo City, where the killing occurred.
In August this year, U.S. serviceman Joseph Scott Pemberton admitted in court to having killed Laude and dragged her lifeless body into the motel bathroom.
The 19-year-old Marine claimed that he was afraid that he would be raped upon discovering that the 26-year-old Laude was a transgender woman.
The country's Catholic bishops said Laude's murder would test the effectiveness of the military agreements between the Philippines and the United States.
Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila, head of the public affairs office of the bishops' conference, said in a 2014 interview that the incident would test the "fairness" of the Visiting Forces Agreement and the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement of both countries.
The Philippines and the United States signed the enhanced deal in early 2014 allowing a bigger American military presence in the country and the construction of U.S. facilities inside Philippine military camps.