LGBTQ+ groups, as well as student and youth organizations, are condemning the murder of a transgender woman in Tabe, Guiguinto, Bulacan, and the violence that the trans community continuously experiences.
Thirty-nine-year-old beauty salon owner Cindy Jones Torres was found naked and dead on 4 August, her body bearing multiple stab wounds. She had a drinking session with the male suspect in her salon that night. The following day, her friends and the police forced the padlocked salon open to find her lifeless and the suspect trapped inside.
According to reports, the suspect frequently borrowed money from Torres and accused her of trying to molest or rape him.
“Cindy hindi mo man maisiwalat ang totoong nangyare sa gabing iyon, Alam na alam kong hindi mo gagawin ang ibinibintang sayo nung Hayop na Pumatay sayo! Tinutukan mo ng kursilyo at Nirape mo?
NAPAKAIMPOSIBLE! Wala kang Record ng Rape at issue sa pera pagdating sa mga lalake kaya bakit? Bakit humantong sa ganito (Cindy, even if you can’t tell us what really happened, I know that you could never do what that animal accuses you of! Threatened him with a knife and raped? Impossible! You had no record of rape and issue with money when it came to men. So, why? Why did it come to this)?” Torres’ friend, Queen Bembem Camua, posted on her Facebook page. “Nag inuman kayo. Nagpaiwan ka tapos sasabihin nirape mo? Imposible ding hindi mo bayaran dahil may pera ang Wallet mo! Kaya bakit? Nadatnan nalang namin na wala ng buhay ang kaibigan namin. Lumaban pa siya dahil may kutsilyo kang hawak, sana hindi mo nalang pinatay, sana hindi nalang (You were drinking. Then, you chose to be left behind and then you claimed rape? It was impossible that you did not pay because you have money in your wallet! So, why? We just found our friend lifeless. She fought because you were holding a knife. You could have chosen not to kill her)!”
Her friends describe Torres as cheerful, helpful and religious. She was also a breadwinner of the family.
Trans panic defense
In courts, gay panic, or in this case trans panic, defense has been used as legal strategy and to justify violence against and the killing of an LGBTQ+ person.
The violence and temporary insanity are said to be results of a person’s fear of sexual advances by an LGBTQ+ person, thus prompting him to commit assault or murder.
Hate and disgust are also important and even overriding factors often not mentioned or ignored. The gay panic defense is increasingly becoming inadmissible in some parts of the world such as the United States.
Many groups say that the suspect in the Torres case is using the trans panic defense.
“The suspect has now been arrested, but raised the ‘trans panic defense.’ He claims Cindy attempted to assault him, leading to the brutal killing,” the organization Bahaghari said. “This does not justify a hate crime!”
“This same defense was used by Joseph Scott Pemberton to avoid the harsher sentence befitting his murder of Jennifer Laude in 2014,” Metro Manila Pride explained. “The ‘trans panic defense’ has been used to excuse violence against transgender people. Any legal defense rooted in prejudice has no place in a just world.”
LGBTQ+ groups call for justice
Bulsu Bahaghari is one of first LGBTQ+ organizations that publicly decried the murder.
“Ang pangyayaring ito ay hindi nalalayo sa dumaraming kaso ng hate crime at trans-related killings sa ating bansa. Oras na upang pag-usapan at ipanawagan ang pagsasabatas ng Anti-Hate Crime Law upang mabigyan ng sapat na parusa base sa bigat ng ginawang krimen (This incident is not apart from the increasing cases of hate crimes and trans-related killings in our country. It is time to talk about and call for the passing of an Anti-Hate Crime Law that will impose the right penalty according to the gravity of the crime committed),” stated the student group of Bulacan State University.
They also called on their local governments to respond to the incident, saying, “[T]ayo ay nananawagan sa Lokal na Pamahalaan ng Guiguinto at Pamahalaang Panlalawigan ng Bulacan na magsagawa ng masusing imbestigasyon ukol sa pagkamatay ni Cindy Jones (We are calling on the local government of Guiguinto and the provincial government of Bulacan to conduct a thorough investigation on the death of Cindy Jones).
“Marami pa ring mga buhay ang maaaring mawala hanggat hindi pa tuluyang nakakamit ang kapantayan. Kaya naman sama-sama nating irehistro ang pagpasa ng SOGIE Equality Bill sa ating bansa at maging ang Gender Fair Ordinance sa Bulacan upang maprotektahan ang bawat indibidwal sa lahat ng porma ng diskriminasyon, karahasan, at inhustisya (More lives will be lost until equality is achieved. Together let’s call for the passing of the SOGIE Equality Bill in our country and the Gender Fair Ordinance in Bulacan to protect each individual from all forms of discrimination, violence and injustice).”
“Her murder added to the worsening cases of violence against the LGBTQIA+ community, especially to our transgender siblings, significantly heightened during community quarantines,” said Far Eastern University (FEU) Sexuality and Gender Alliance (SAGA). “Even if the suspect has been arrested, we still demand a thorough investigation and justice for our sister, who has been killed by gender-based violence from discrimination and bigotry.”
“The grim reality faced by LGBTQIA+ Filipinos is clear. Despite this, laws that aim to address the roots of SOGIESC-based prejudice continue to languish in Congress. There is still no Hate Crime law that can help justly account for crimes marked by SOGIESC-based violence,” said Metro Manila Pride.
“Transgender people are not safe in the Philippines. LGBTQIA+ people are not safe in the Philippines. No one is safe in the Philippines for as long as violence against marginalized groups is allowed to continue. This cycle of violence must end,” they added.
For Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY), “an attack on one of us is an attack to all of us. In a society that propagates hate and violence against a marginalized community, anyone can be a victim.”
The Philippine Normal University Katalonan echoed other group’s indignation and also called on for the passing of laws to protect the community.
“With the rampant cases of gender-based hate crimes reported against the LGBTQIA+ community, the FEU SAGA, along with other community organizations, further amplifies the demand to the national government for the passage of the SOGIE Anti-Discrimination Bill, where it has been sitting under Congress for more than twenty-one years,” FEU SAGA said.
“We need SOGIE equality now to protect us from SOGIESC-based discrimination and harassment, and Anti-Hate Crime Law now to stop anti-LGBTQI violence,” emphasized University of the Philippines Babaylan.
“Our siblings in the community deserve to live their lives free from gender-based hate and violence,” said Kasarianlan of Polytechnic University of the Philippines.
Response of the Commission
on Human Rights
Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) spokesperson, Jacqueline Ann de Guia, said that the agency will be conducting a motu proprio investigation into the killing through their regional office in Central Luzon.
“The case of Cindy Jones, as well as other similar instances of reprehensible and senseless acts of violence, stresses the harsh realities faced by the LGBTQI community, who are more vulnerable to hate-motivated violence even in present-day society,” she added. “CHR, as the country’s Gender Ombud, denounces all forms of gender-based violence directed towards transgender individuals and other people with diverse sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC).”
CHR also calls for “the enactment of the SOGIE Equality Bill, which is envisioned to provide legal mechanisms to hold to account perpetrators of gender-based discrimination and violence.”
Rising number of deaths
The number of murdered transgender persons is rising in the Philippines. According to PANTAY, “[t]here have been more than 50 LGBTQ+ Filipinos killed since 2010.”
“Hers is the fourth reported death of a Filipino LGBTQIA+ person this year, the 21st reported murder of a trans person under the Duterte administration, and the 61st reported murder of a trans person in the Philippines since 2008. The actual death toll is likely higher,” Metro Manila Pride said.
“To this day, no justice has been granted to the victims and the families they have left behind,” they added.
“We need to end this cycle,” PANTAY stressed.