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Pemberton release on hold

Palace calls out RTC judge for ‘judicial overreach’; victim’s sister files MR

A US marine convicted of killing a transgender woman will stay in detention in the Philippines while a court reviews its earlier ruling to free him halfway into his 10-year jail term, officials said Thursday.

Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton has been in prison since October 2014 for killing Jennifer Laude, whom he met at a bar while on a break from military exercises in Olongapo City.

An Olongapo court ruled on Tuesday that Pemberton qualified for early release due to good behavior while detained in a special jail at a special military facility inside Camp Aguinaldo.

He has served half of a 10-year sentence for homicide.

But his release has now been suspended after a sister of the victim challenged the ruling in a filing that asked the court to reconsider, Bureau of Corrections spokesman Gabriel Chaclag said.

Pemberton’s lawyer Rowena Flores pressed for his immediate release.

“Every day that he stays in jail is a violation of his constitutional right,” Flores said.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, a lawyer who represented the Laude family during the trial, said the court had committed “judicial overreach” and that the government would also file a motion for reconsideration.

“Do not release him yet. The decision is not yet final and executory,” Roque said.

Roque said he has talked to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra who mentioned to him the government’s plans to appeal the latest court decision.

Pemberton’s conviction fell under the Philippines and United States’ Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), which covers the legal liability of US troops taking part in military operations in the Southeast Asian country.

President Rodrigo Duterte has shifted away from the US to pursue greater economic cooperation with China since assuming power in 2016. In February, he notified Washington that the Philippines would terminate the VFA for alleged US interference in his war on drugs.

But Manila later put the abrogation on hold, citing “political and other developments in the region.”

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete said the Bureau of Corrections would not process Pemberton’s release papers until the motion filed by Laude’s family has been settled.

Perete’s statement scotched speculation that Pemberton had been released from detention in compliance with the order issued by Olongapo City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 74 Judge Roline Ginez Jabalde, who directed the corrections bureau to release him.

Pemberton was sentenced to spend 6-10 years in prison after he was convicted of homicide for killing transgender Laude.

Considering deductions of his prison term on account of his Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA), he has already exceeded the maximum prison sentence.

The court order said during Pemberton’s preventive suspension, he served 405 days in prison, and another 1,737 days during his service of sentence, for a total of 2,142 days. Adding the GCTA credits he obtained during his preventive suspension numbering 260 days and 1,288 days during his service of sentence, that totaled 1,548 days.

His actual time served of 2,142 days and his GCTA of 1,548 comes to 3,690 days.

“Pemberton has a total accumulated time served with entitlement of GCTA of 10 years, one month, and 10 days, which is more than the 10 years maximum penalty imposed by this court and affirmed by the Court of Appeals. Thus, he is now entitled to be released for he had already served the 10 years maximum of his penalty,” the trial court said.

The court also said Pemberton was able to satisfy his civil liability by completing the payment of P4.6 million to Laude’s heirs.

But Laude’s sister Marilou Laude-Mahait filed a motion for reconsideration and asked the Olongapo RTC to set aside its order, and instead issue a new order denying Pemberton’s early release, and for him to complete his service of sentence.

The Laude family’s lawyer Virgie Suarez said the motion for reconsideration will be heard at 10 a.m. on Monday.

Rep. Elpidio Barzaga, Jr. of Dasmariñas City in Cavite, president of the National Unity Party (NUP), said the court decision on Pemberton showed the justice system has worked.

“Meted out punishment was served. I call on the victim’s family and supporters to observe sobriety,” Barzaga said.

“Our laws apply to both Filipino and foreigners who commit a crime here. And whatever benefits they grant to Filipinos also equally apply to all foreigners regardless of their nationalities,” he said.

But the Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives denounced the release of Pemberton.

Gabriela Women’s Party said Pemberton’s early release was “an injustice to all Filipino women and LGBTQ who were made highly vulnerable to rape, prostitution, and other forms of gender-based violence” under the VFA.

Rep. Arlene Brosas of Gabriela added: “The Olongapo court granted the early release of a transphobic murderer under GCTA who was not even detained at the New Bilid Prison but at a relatively lavish detention facility in Camp Aguinaldo. Where is the justice in that? His conduct was never put to test as he was living comfortably in his specially made cell.”

Rep. Ferdinand Gaite of Bayan Muna called on the court to review its decision to release Pemberton.

Gaite said he was dismayed over the early release of Pemberton.

“He never spent one single day in a Philippine prison. Instead, he was kept in an American facility, guarded by his fellow American soldiers, and possibly given the best treatment a convicted criminal could wish for.”

The decision also prompted renewed calls from Gaite for the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement, a move which the Duterte government had repeatedly threatened to do but has yet to carry out.

“We further reiterate our long standing call for the immediate abrogation of the Visiting Forces Agreement. This agreement has not only resulted in the murder of Jennifer Laude but also made the special treatment of an American criminal possible,” Gaite said.

Senators seemed uncertain on how to react to the news of Pemberton’s impending release.

Senator Panfilo Lacson said he felt bad about the early release, he acknowledged that the sentence of homicide is lower than murder, then suggested reporters talk to Roque because “he’s the counsel of Laude.”

Senate President Vicente Sotto III would not comment on the release, either, and said he would ask Senator Richard Gordon’s Blue Ribbon Committee to look at Pemberton’s GCTA computations.

Rights groups on Thursday condemned the court order for Pemberton’s early release.

Karapatan said Pemberton’s impending release was proof of the “lopsidedness towards US interests” of the VFA.

Bahaghari, an LGBTQ+ group Bahaghari called for the termination of the VFA, saying “there can never be justice for our slain sister Jennifer” as long as the agreement stands.

The Kilusang Mayo Uno on Thursday condemned the Olongapo court release order for Pemberton’s release.

“While ordinary Filipino criminal offenders languish in jails even without a conviction, the true criminals like Pemberton who murder women and Philippine sovereignty run free. This is how unequally the law is being applied to our own people. Pemberton’s release is a clear-as-day example of how our interests as people run secondary to those of the United States,” said Elmer Labog, KMU chairperson.

Topics: Joseph Scott Pemberton , Jennifer Laude , Gabriel Chaclag , Markk Perete , Menardo Guevarra , Visiting Forces Agreement , Harry Roque
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