Court decision to release convicted American serviceman Pemberton raises protests
MANILA – Two days after Regional Trial Court Judge Roline M. Ginez-Jabaldi ordered the release of Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton after being in detention since his conviction for the death of transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014, different sectors called for restraint.
According to Atty. Virgina Lacsa Suarez, counsel for the Laude family, the American serviceman Pemberton should have served his sentence in the National Bilibid Prison but invoking the Visiting Forces Agreement which the Philippines ratified in February 1999 accorded the convict the privilege of serving his sentence in a specially-made facility in Camp Aguinaldo with US soldiers have been assigned.
Atty. Suarez said the convict’s conduct “was never put to test” because he never joined other convicts at the New Bilibid Prison. She added good conduct allowance is not a matter of right as it is a privilege subject to the presentation of proof and recommendation of actual “good conduct.”
Over at the Presidential Palace, Presidential Spokesman Secretary Harry Roque, a former lawyer for the Laude family in 2014, said Pemberton was detained at the exact place while the case was being heard. He explained this is important because according to the VFA, while an American serviceman is on trial, he should be under American supervision.
“However, upon conviction, he continued to stay at the same place. I have been looking for the refrigerated van near the Department of National Defense (DND) building but never saw it,” Secretary Roque said. He said he was told the van was at a place guarded by American soldiers in an area near the driving range.
He went on to say he learned from an American who said Pemberton leaves the country and returns to attend court hearings. He added he stands by the information he received.
“I informed the Supreme Court when I argued against the Visiting Forces Agreement,” he added.
Secretary Roque said Jennifer Laude’s death is symbolic of the death of Philippine sovereignty. As I’ve said, the death of Jennifer Laude is symbolic of the death of Philippines’ sovereignty.
“Where have you seen a crime committed in the Philippines yet we cannot have custody of the suspect and today, he is symbolically under our custody but there are still American soldiers protecting him,” he added.
However, Secretary Roque said he is thankful to the Supreme Court for its ruling that the then Foreign Secretary Roberto Romulo cannot enter into an agreement with then US Ambassador Kristie Kenney that allows a convicted American national may be confined at the US Embassy.
Roque reiterated the grant of Good Conduct Time Allowance is accorded by the Executive Department based on the recommendation of the Bureau of Corrections and not the Courts.
As far as Atty. Suarez is concerned, Pemberton has not showed any active involvement in rehabilitation programs nor participated in any authorized work activities or has accomplished any exemplary deed thereby “no good conduct can be attributed to him.”
National Union of People’s Lawyers convenor Atty. Edrey Olalia said they could not in conscience accept a foreign serviceman given special treatment and extraordinary privileges for a crime he committed.
“What makes it even more atrocious is that his entitlements and liberty were apparently politically bartered through an onerous and servile military agreement. What cheap price sovereignty and national dignity,” he added in a statement sent to different media outlets.
He said what is “worse is that persecuted political prisoners are still in limbo, denied for months of their pleas for an reprieve if only to avoid the curse of the pandemic for them ad, in one heart wrenching case, even a newborn baby.” (Melo M. Acuña)
Presidential Spokesperson Secretary Harry Roque. (Screen grab from PTV4/PCOO)