Pemberton to stay in jail pending legal challenge: Olongapo court under fire for ‘speedy release’

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    THE Department of Justice (DOJ) yesterday said US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton will remain in detention until the motion filed by the family of slain transgender Jennifer Laude is resolved by the Olongapo Regional Trial Court, which ordered Pemberton’s controversial release last Wednesday.

    The Laudes’ legal counsel, Virgie Suarez, said the motion asking the court to reconsider its decision will be heard by Judge Roline Ginez Jabalde at 10 a.m. on Monday, September 7.
    Malacanang said Jabalde may have committed “judicial overreach” in approving the early release of Pemberton.

    Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the decision of the Olongapo RTC contradicted the recommendation of the Bureau of Corrections that Pemberton is not qualified for the GCTA.

    “I’m speaking as spokesperson; it looks like the recommendations of the Bureau of Corrections was the reverse of the decision of the court… What the judge did was she decided how to credit the good conduct which is an instance of judicial overreach,” he said.

    Sen. Risa Hontiveros slammed the court for its apparent preferential treatment of Pemberton, saying this was a privilege not extended to many Filipinos.

    “The swiftness by which our institutions have acted on a white, male American’s case is a privilege that is never accorded to many Filipinos. What message does this send to our citizens who have routinely suffered from our own justice system?” Hontiveros said. “I hope the court will give due course to the motion for reconsideration of Jennifer’s camp.”
    Suarez said upon their receipt of the release order last Wednesday, “I immediately filed our motion for reconsideration,” adding that until Jabalde rules on their challenge, Pemberton should stay in jail.

    “It should be the case as all orders of the court become final and executory only after 10 days,” Suarez said.

    DOJ Undersecretary Markk Perete agreed with Suarez, saying the motion would have to be resolved first before Pemberton, who has served just six of his 10-year maximum sentence, is released.

    The American, who was convicted of killing Laude in 2014 in Olongapo, was given an early release through the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA). Pemberton is detained at the JUSMAG facility inside Camp Aguinaldo City as part of an agreement reached by Manila and Washington.

    Perete said the Bureau of Correction will “not process his release since there is a pending motion in court.”

    BuCor Spokesman Gabriel Chaclag said they will wait for the court to resolve the issue.
    “BuCor respects the court processes and will wait for the resolution of the filed motion for reconsideration. Meanwhile, the normal release process is on hold,” said Chaclag, who on Wednesday said they are “legally bind to follow the court.”

    Suarez said they have furnished a copy of their motion to the Office of the Solicitor General and the Bureau of Prisons. She said she will also ask the Bureau of Immigration to prevent Pemberton from leaving the country.

    “I will write the BI not to allow Pemberton to leave the country pending our motion,” she added.

    Last Wednesday, Jabalde directed the BuCor to release Pemberton, saying he had exceeded the 10-year maximum penalty imposed on him for killing Laude, adding that under the GCTA, he has served a total of counting of 10 years, one month and 10 days.

    Jabalde also said Pemberton had satisfied his civil liability by completing the payment of P4.6 million to Laude’s heirs.

    Laude was found dead at the Celzone Lodge on Magsaysay Drive in Olongapo City on October 11, 2014. On December 1, 2015, Pemberton, then 19, was meted 10 years in prison for homicide after admitting in court that he strangled Laude to death. He was in the Philippines, together with other US troops, for military exercises.

    Roque said that based on the BuCor report, the educational activity of Pemberton while serving his sentence is not qualified for the GTA.

    Roque added he refused to call the decision an example of “ignorance of the law,” but believes that it can be corrected if it was a mistake made by the court.

    “Let us give the court a chance to study the issue,” he added.

    Roque, one of the private of lawyers of the Laude family during the hearing of the case, said among the concerns raised by the family was why Pemberton was being allowed to go free when he only served less than six years, how he was able to comply with the GCTA when he was detained in an exclusive facility for him, and why the supposed P4.6 million civil damages ordered by the court were paid to Laude’s sibling instead of the mother.

    “It looks like the penalty meted on Pemberton is similar to those who killed an animal. If you look at the penalty on those who committed cruelty to animals they serve the same sentence as Pemberton. We will not allow that when a Filipino is killed, the sentence meted out is the same as those meted against those who killed dogs. We are not animals. We are Filipinos,” he said

    Hontiveros said the early release of Pemberton would be a big loss in the LGBTQI+ community’s fight for equality and justice.

    “Pemberton was sentenced to 10 years in prison but his ‘hate crime’ which he committed in ‘self defense’ has so far resulted in less than six years of punishment. Many LGBTQI+ groups believe that six years is not enough, especially considering the gruesome killing he committed against Jennifer,” she said.

    “To rub salt into the wound, since Jennifer’s death in 2014, Pemberton has never apologized for the immeasurable pain he caused the LGBTQI+ community, the country, nor the Laude family, even when they and their lawyer asked for it. Those years of deafening silence, and now an early release — this is not what Jennifer deserves. Pemberton paid the Laude family over P4.6 million in civil damages, but no amount can ever bring back the life and dignity of Jennifer,” Hontiveros said.

    Senate President Vicente Sotto III said the Senate can review Pemberton’s case under the Senate Blue Ribbon Committee which conducted a series of hearings on the controversial GCTA Law.

    Sotto said this case can be tackled since the Blue Ribbon Committee has not terminated the hearings “so I’m sure we can take it up.” – With Jocelyn Montemayor, Raymond Africa and Noel Talacay