"Those opposing the GCTA Law should ask Congress to amend it."
Should the President have pardoned United States Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton?
Ever since transgender woman Jennifer Laude was killed and Pemberton was arrested for the crime, the case has generated so much controversy that it has not really stopped even with Pemberton already out of the country.
Cases like these are almost always controversial not only in this country but also in other countries where the United States maintains military bases. In Okinawa, Japan, it always results in friction between the officials of the Okinawa prefecture and the US military command.
For us, it is even more complicated. During the long years of US military bases here, there was much resentment every time a US military personnel kills a Filipino and gets away scot-free without being charged because of legal jurisdictional issues not clearly defined by the existing agreements then. The Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and the Philippines was supposed to have settled this when it came to crimes committed by US military personnel while not in the performance of their official duties.
But even with this, the many cause-oriented organizations were not satisfied, as demonstrated by the Jennifer Laude case. US military presence in this country has long been the favorite punching bag of nationalist groups supportive of the Communist Party of the Philippines.
While other countries like, for instance, Poland, worked hard for the stationing of US military forces in that country, many here are opposed to it. Still, whether one supported the presence of US military bases here before or not, it can be argued that we somehow benefited from the protective cover provided by the two huge US military bases especially since our military is so weak. And unlike other countries hosting US military bases like Japan and South Korea that share in the upkeep of the US military forces in those countries, we never shared in the upkeep of US military forces here. We somehow enjoyed the protection of the American presence without spending anything.
Of course, opponents always love to say that there are other social costs involved. The case of Pemberton was one. There are others as well like prostitution and other crimes.
It is, however, unrealistic for us to expect that no crime will be committed with the stationing of predominantly male soldiers here. There will always be incidents. That is why we have the Visiting Forces Agreement. We have to be realistic. In the case of Pemberton, he was the first US military personnel ever tried in a Philippine court. He was found guilty and was sentenced from six to ten years. He was incarcerated in a facility agreed upon by the Philippines and the United States, but this too was not enough for people who wanted him jailed in Muntinlupa.
Because of the Good Conduct Time Allowance Law, the Olongapo City court that sentenced him ordered his early release. This created a tempest. Laude’s lawyer went to the media to question how the judge could justify good behavior when there was no interaction with anyone. Secretary Harry Roque, who was the Laudes’ lawyer at one point, also accused the judge of judicial overreach.
Maybe the lawyer should try confining herself alone in a room for a few months to see what the confinement will do to her mental health.
For all intents and purposes, Pemberton was in solitary confinement during his entire confinement—which was worse. With Laude’s lawyer media interviews and Harry Roque getting into the picture not to mention the entry of the Department of Justice into the case and the plan of the LGBT community to enter the fray, the potential of the case being muddled was real.
Remember what happened to Mayor Sanchez of Laguna. When he was about to be released for good conduct, the media blitz that followed generated so much protests that he eventually was not released. Perhaps, all these was one reason why President Duterte simply pardoned Pemberton. Those opposed to the Good Conduct Law should petition Congress to amend the law.
The law was passed to give a second chance to people sentenced to long prison terms. But as is often the case in this country, the law is abused and taken advantage of by corrupt prison officials. Whether we agree or disagree with the President’s pardon, it nipped in the bud what could have otherwise developed into a protracted issue. This could have taken government attention away from the pandemic—something we cannot afford at this time.