VICE President Leni Robredo yesterday said the absolute pardon granted by President Duterte to Joseph Scott Pemberton last Monday was another proof of the government’s bias for the wealthy and the influential as she led a chorus of voices slamming the Chief Executive for the American marine’s controversial release.
In a statement, Robredo said Pemberton received special treatment at every stage of his case and even after he was convicted in 2015 of killing Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude in 2014 in an Olongapo hotel.
The pardon swept aside the remaining four years on Pemberton’s maximum sentence of 10 years imprisonment after his conviction for homicide by the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court.
Also voicing disapproval to the pardon, granted by Duterte after receiving outgoing US Ambassador Sung Kim earlier Monday, were Bataan Rep. Geraldine Roman, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Sen. Risa Hontiveros, and Laude’s lawyer, Virgie Suarez, among others.
The Laude family said they could still not believe what Duterte did, adding they always thought the President was on their side. Suarez said this was the reaction of Laude’s sister, Marilou, who expressed shock at Duterte’s move.
“Akala ko Attorney kakampi namin si Duterte? Akala ko ayaw niya sa Amerika. Bakit ganun?” Suarez said in an interview with ABS-CBN News Channel, quoting Marilou.
The Catholic church, through Novaliches Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani, expressed the hope that Duterte would show similar mercy and kindness to his fellow Filipinos currently incarcerated.
There was no immediate reaction from Malacanang as of press time last night.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said no one, not even Kim, swayed or prompted Duterte to make his decision, adding it is within the President’s powers to grant clemency to prisoners.
“I saw that the President’s decision to grant pardon to Pemberton was solely his own. No one prompted it,” Guevarra said, adding even Kim did not expect the absolute pardon.
“Fifteen minutes into our meeting (in Malacanang), 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,” said Guevarra, who admitted on Monday that he was consulted by Duterte before the pardon was granted.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., who broke the news of Pemberton’s release on Twitter, said Washington did not request Duterte to pardon Pemberton.
The pardon came as Olongapo Court Judge Roline Ginez Jabalde, who sentenced Pemberton, started hearing the motion for reconsideration filed by Laude’s sister, Marilou, on Pemberton’s release order based on good conduct time allowance.
Robredo said the swift grant of clemency to Pemberton highlights in stark contrast the plight of thousands of poor Filipinos charged of various minor offenses but remain in detention without intervention from the government.
“We are asking: Was that decision fair and just? There are so many Filipinos detained for lesser crimes who never received the same attention or were given a similar privilege. This is what we see: the poor defendant is punished; the rich and powerful go free,” she said.
Pemberton’s lawyer, Rowena Garcia Flores, had admitted to reporters that she was clueless about the grant of pardon to her client as she did not file an application on his behalf with the Board of Pardon and Parole.
Robredo underscored the condition of Filipino inmates whose cases have been languishing in overloaded court dockets.
“They cannot pay for legal representation, so their cases have not seen the light of day. Yet they have families who suffer from hunger, disease, and poverty. On the other hand, Pemberton has his lawyers, special detention facilities, a quick public trial and appeal,” the Vice President said.
“We continue to hope that the President exercises his vast powers in a manner that is fair and that benefits the common Filipino,” she added.
Roman, the first transgender who became a member of Congress, assailed Duterte’s move, saying it reeks of special treatment.
“As a Filipino, I’m asking myself why this needs to happen, why is a foreigner being given special treatment? May of our countrymen also violate the law but are not given the same chance. It can’t be like this. Do we deserve less?” the lawmaker said in a social media post.
Roman said that as a human being “with a trans experience,” she could not help but feel bad over the President’s decision.
“I can’t help but be hurt because of what happened to my trans sister Jennifer Laude against Joseph Scott Pemberton,” Roman said.
The administration lawmaker said that while it is understandable that there are negotiations between countries, Pemberton still needs to answer for his crime.
Trillanes said Duterte’s decision showed he has a “twisted sense of what is right and wrong.”
But Trillanes, a known critic of Duterte, said this is not surprising considering that the President has presided over the bloody crackdown on illegal drugs that has killed thousands, mostly small-time drug pushers and users, since he assumed the presidency in 2016.
“That’s why it was not surprising that Mr. Duterte, whose bloody war on illegal drugs has killed thousands of Filipinos, would grant an absolute pardon to a convicted murderer, Joseph Scott Pemberton,” Trillanes said.
As if the pardon was not enough, Trillanes said Duterte added insult to injury felt by the family of Laude and the public with his kind words for Pemberton in his address to the nation Monday night.
“Juxtapose Pemberton with the Filipinos he killed for being “suspected” drug addicts. If only Mr. Duterte treated the same way the thousands of victims of his fake drug war, they could have been given the chance to change,” Trillanes said.
Sen. Imee Marcos said Pemberton’s pardon underscores the urgency to pass the anti-discrimination bills pending in Congress.
Hontiveros earlier said the granting of pardon to Pemberton is an “affront to the LGBTQ community as well as to the whole Filipino people.”
Suarez said Pemberton and Duterte should apologize to the Laudes and the Filipino public.
“This is subserviency, a travesty of our democracy, dignity and sovereignty. A mockery of our legal and judiciary system,” Suarez said.
Bacani said Duterte has given Pemberton another chance and “I hope he makes good use of this opportunity.”
Sorsogon Bishop Emeritus Arturo Bastes frowned at the pardon, saying the time served by Pemberton was not enough for his mistakes.
“It is strange that Duterte gave that pardon. I would have wished that Pemberton would serve some time in prison in reparation for his crime,” Bastes said in a separate interview. – With Ashzel Hachero, Wendell Vigilia, Gerard. Naval and Noel Talacay