US Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton could be released from prison by Friday after President Rodrigo Duterte granted the American serviceman absolute pardon for the 2014 killing of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude, his lawyer said.
“I am hoping he can leave prison by Friday, but I will still talk to the Bureau of Immigration as to what they require of us before they release Pemberton,” lawyer Rowena Garcia-Flores said in an interview on Dobol B sa News TV on Tuesday.
Pemberton remains in his cell in Camp Aguinaldo, headquarters of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, as he has no deportation order yet, Flores said.
Before the deportation order takes effect, the lawyer said the BI also required them to secure clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation, along with other travel documents, fingerprinting and picture-taking with authorities, and an airplane ticket.
The Bureau of Corrections is likewise making its own preparations while they wait for an official copy of the pardon, spokesman Gabriel Chaclag said.
He said this is the first case of an American getting pardoned that they have encountered since Director General Gerald Bantag was appointed to lead the BuCor.
Chaclag said they will follow the ordinary process for the release of inmates, including pardonees and parolees, which he said can take days but can be expedited "so this issue is finished."
"Only that we have to consider all implications of what we're doing, because this PDL (person deprived of liberty) is covered by another agreement," he added, referring to the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement.
Meanwhile, Vice President Leni Robredo on Tuesday led new critics in questioning the fairness of Duterte’s pardon of Pemberton.
“Is this fair and just?” she asked.
“This is just one of many cases that show the government’s bias for the powerful,” she said in Filipino.
“There are so many Filipinos who are guilty of less, but they are not being given this kind of attention privilege.”
“What we see is this. If you are poor, you get punished; if you are rich or powerful, you go free. We continue to hope that the President exercises his vast powers in a manner that is fair and that benefits the common Filipino,” she said.
“Our question is, is this decision just and fair? Thousands are in jail because they could not afford a lawyer. Pemberton had lawyers, special detention facilities, a quick, public trial, and an appeal. Now it becomes clearer that he has the resources to get the President to take notice of his case,” she said.
The lawyer of Laude family questioned Duterte’s statement that Pemberton had been treated unfairly.
Virginia Lacsa Suarez, legal counsel for the family of slain transgender woman Jennifer Laude, said the Philippines has not been able to take hold of Pemberton from the beginning; the police had difficulty serving the summons and notices; during trials US soldiers were inside the court while the Laudes have only their counsels; and the media were prevented from getting in.
The lawyer said on the day of conviction, Philippine authorities were not able to get near Pemberton as he was surrounded by US soldiers and despite the order for him to be brought to the New Bilibid Prison, his camp invoked the Visiting Forces Agreement in demanding that he be allowed to serve his sentence in Camp Aguinaldo.
“Since conviction in 2015, Pemberton has been detained in a privileged and air conditioned facility in Camp Aguinaldo with US soldiers guarding him,” the lawyer said.
“And you call this unfair treatment to Pemberton?” she said.
Suarez described the grant of the pardon as “a travesty of Philippine sovereignty and democracy” and “another hallmark of Philippine’s subservience to the US.”
"There are too many Filipino convicts, already in their twilight years serving their sentence, why give it to a foreigner, a US soldier who committed an atrocious crime?” the lawyer said.
"There is so much disrespect in the manner by which Jennifer was killed— reflective of the disrespect US has for the Philippines’ democracy and sovereignty,” she added.
Staff in an Olongapo motel found Laude's naked body, partially covered from the waist down, with her neck blackened by strangulation marks and her head in a toilet bowl on Oct. 11, 2014. An Olongapo court found Pemberton guilty of homicide in December 2015.
"The pardon given to Pemberton is a mockery of our judiciary and legal system, too,” she added.
An organization of families and friends of political prisoners, Kapatid, assailed the grant of pardon to Pemberton considering that the petition before the Supreme Court for the early release of the elderly and sick prisoners has been pending for months already.
“Where is justice when a US soldier convicted of homicide over the killing of Jennifer Lade was granted absolute pardon while hundreds of incarcerated Filipinos languish in prisons because of fabricated and baseless charges meant to silence them from speaking against government injustices?” Kapatid spokesperson Fides Lim said in a statement.
The pardon also drew condemnation from the Center for Women's Resources and Akbayan.
"The people's quest for justice was choked to death," said Akbayan Chair Emeritus Etta Rosales on Tuesday.
She considered an abominable act of injustice and betrayal the President's grant of absolute pardon to the American soldier.
"It is a wrongful exercise that perverts the spirit of restorative justice and mocks our sovereignty. Similar to Pemberton's crime, Mr. Duterte's pardon choked to death the people's quest to give Jennifer the justice she rightfully deserves," Rosales said.
But Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday defended the legality of the President’s pardon, even though the usual procedure for the grant of executive clemency is for a sentenced person to apply for pardon or parole.
“Nothing prevents the President from directly exercising his constitutional power to grant executive clemency at any time, because it is a personal act of grace,” Guevarra said.
Guevarra admitted that he was consulted by the President before he made the decision to grant Pemberton absolute pardon.
“I just told him (President) that pardon is an act of grace and that is his exclusive prerogative under the Constitution,” he said.
Guevarra said he was called to Malacanang on Monday (Sept. 7) and met with the President, who consulted him on the granting of absolute pardon to Pemberton.
“The President simply felt that it was not Pemberton’s fault that there was no way of recording his behavior in a military detention center all alone by himself. So, since there were no reports of misbehavior, the presumption of good conduct was on his side. I stated that granting executive clemency was the President’s constitutional prerogative,” Guevarra said.
A few minutes into the meeting, out-going US Ambassador Sung Kim arrived.
“Fifteen minutes into our meeting, the US Ambassador arrived for his farewell call on the President. He seemed rather surprised when the President mentioned Pemberton’s pardon, and he thanked the President for it,” Guevarra said.
The pardon renders moot legal attempts to keep Pemberton from being release early on good conduct.
Pemberton’s lawyer, Rowen Flores, said she had informed him of his pardon and said he was happy about it.
She only spoke to him for about three minutes, saying that Pemberton was a man of few words.
Flores expressed hopes that Pemberton would be released by Friday. “At this time I can assure you that he would not be spirited away from the country and that he will comply with whatever there is before he goes out of the country,” Flores said.
Asked if Pemberton had shown any remorse for killing Laude, Flores said he was “very sorry.”
Flores thanked the President for giving her client an absolute pardon.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III on Tuesday came to the defense of the President, saying his pardon cannot be challenged.
"Such Presidential charity is immune from any challenge from any person, institution or other branch of government," Sotto said.
But Senator Risa Hontiveros said the President’s pardon was an “unbelievable affront” not only to the LGBTQI+ community but to the Filipino people.
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