“There will never be justice for Laude unless Pemberton truly pays for his crimes.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – Progressive youth groups are outraged at the reduced jail sentence for convicted US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, whom they feared might soon get a “graceful exit” from the country.
Pemberton was convicted last year of killing Filipina transgender Jennifer Laude in 2014, and was sentenced to six to 12 years imprisonment. On April 4, Olongapo Regional Trial Court Branch 74 Judge Roline Ginez Jabalde denied Pemberton’s petition for bail and partial reconsideration, but issued a resolution which shortened his sentence to six to 10 years.
Youth activist groups Kabataan Party-list and the League of Filipino Students (LFS) decried the ruling, which, they said, practically spares Pemberton. Progressive groups had criticized how provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) are lopsided in favor of convicted US servicemen.
“Lowering Pemberton’s sentence is an affront to our justice system and the Filipino people…It speaks volumes about our nation’s continued subservience to the US,” Kabataan Partylist first nominee Sarah Elago said. The youth leader feared that “sooner or later, Pemberton will also be accorded a ‘graceful exit’ from the Philippines.”
“Justice for Jennifer remains elusive under a system that grants free reign to her killer. Pemberton must be penalized under the full extent of the law,” Elago said.
Since 2014, Pemberton had been detained under US custody at a facility of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) inside Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. The facility is an airconditioned converted container van, which had served as office for the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board (MDB-SEB).
Although the Olongapo court orginally committed Pemberton to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, it eventually ruled to allow his temporary commitment to the facility until the completion of the construction of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) custodial center where he should be detained, also in Camp Aguinaldo.
“First, Pemberton was allowed to stay, not in a regular prison facility, but in Camp Aguinaldo. Then we have the court affirming his conviction, yet reducing his jail time. All these speak of preferential treatment only accorded to US servicemen – the hallmark of unjustifiable subservience of our government to Washington,” Elago said.
Under the VFA, the US and Philippine parties may negotiate on where a convicted US serviceman may serve his sentence in Philippine soil.
In 2006, another US Marine, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith was convicted of raping Filipina Suzette Nicolas, and was committed to the Makati City jail. Smith, however, remained in detention at the US embassy in Manila. Nicolas, later retracted her statement and Smith was immediately flown back to the US.
“There remains the great possibility that the VFA may again snag another convicted criminal from being penalized under the full extent of Philippine laws,” Elago said.
LFS chairperson Charisse Bañez said the court’s conviction of Pemberton has slowly unravelled as “superficial,” citing how US and Philippine authorities used ways to circumvent the court decisions.
“In the first ruling of the region court, after the verdict was read, Pemberton’s legal aid and US representatives easily pressured the court to move him into some place other than what the court has decided. He was not detained in Bilibid as what the original
verdict says,” said Bañez.
“The Philippines cannot freely enforce our country’s laws just because of the overwhelming domination of US in the entirety of our society. Aquino government’s servility to the US also paved way for the latter to go around our laws so that Pemberton, a murderer, can still live like how he usually does,” Bañez added.