Video by RYAN LEAGOGO
Denouncing the government’s “special treatment” for US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, protesters from different sectors—including students in uniform—on Friday trooped to Camp Aguinaldo where the convicted soldier was detained to demand his full Philippine custody.
Dozens of militants, students, and church workers picketed in front of Gate 2 of the Armed Forces of the Philippines national headquarters along Epifanio de los Santos Avenue-Santolan in Quezon City to demand the transfer of Pemberton to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.
The rallyists went on with the demonstration despite the “no permit, no rally” sign hanging near the gate.
Among the groups that participated in the protest were the Promotion of Church People’s Response and groups under Bagong Alyansang Makabayan including Gabriela and Bayan Muna.
International League of Peoples’ Struggle’s Liza Maza, a former Gabriela representative, spoke at the rally.
In an interview with INQUIRER.net, Maza pointed out the disparity between Pemberton and ordinary Filipino prisoners, who endure dire conditions in local prison and detention facilities.
“‘Yung sarili nating kababayan, wala pang kaso nabubulok ng 20 years in jail. Wala pang trial pero nabubulok sila sa kulungan na masikip, halos pagkain ng hayop ang binibigay pero hindi pinapansin ng gobyerno,” she said.
“Pero ito, isang criminal who is an American citizen, a US soldier who committed a crime and he’s given special treatment. That’s the most absurd thing,” Maza said.
Maza criticized the Department of Justice for “acceding” to US to give comfort to Pemberton, who was convicted of homicide for the death of transgender woman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo last year.
“The Philippine government is spending to renovate and construct a special jail for Pemberton who committed murder and giving him special treatment, special food, 18 policemen guarding his cell and in all the comforts and you call that punishing a person? That’s not how you punish a person that has committed a crime,” she said.
She said the DOJ only acted on the orders of the executive department and President Benigno Aquino III.
“That’s how lopsided our government is,” Maza said.
On the request of US government, Pemberton’s detention barracks at the Armed Forces Custodial Center will be upgraded and improved.
Pemberton is charged with homicide and will serve a six- to 12-year sentence.
Because of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and US, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes said even a convicted American soldier received special treatment.
“Also appalling was the response of the Aquino government via the Department of Justice. The executive sided with the US and supported Pemberton’s return to Camp Aguinaldo. Our own officials are spineless. They did not even stand up to US arrogance. They did not assert our national sovereignty,” Reyes said.
The left-wing group also said the homicide charge meted out to Pemberton was not commensurate to the offense done by the soldier.
Maza said this only highlighted the unfair treatment of the society to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community.
“So just because he did not like that Jennifer was a transgender gives him the right to kill a person? That’s not enough justification to kill someone,” she said.
Bayan also fears that the US may still try to overturn the verdict when it appeals the ruling in a higher court.