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Militants say court watered-down verdict on Pemberton

Activist groups that protested on Tuesday at the US Embassy in Manila were dismayed that the Olongapo regional trial court handed down a watered-down verdict against US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton for killing of Filipino transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude.

“It is embarrassing that our own court watered down the ruling against an American who brutally killed a fellow Filipino,” said Andrew Zarate of LGBT group Bahaghari.

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Zarate said it was not enough to claim that Pemberton was not fully aware of what he was doing because he was drunk.

While the groups were happy that Pemberton was found guilty of killing Laude, they couldn’t fully rejoice because the verdict was not murder.

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Lean Flores, secretary general of Gabriela Metro Manila, said the guilty verdict showed a “faulty” Visiting Forces Agreement between the US and Philippine governments.

“It only shows you that Filipinos will never get justice under the VFA,” she said.

Like anyone found guilty of violating Philippine laws, Pemberton should be detained in New Bilibid Prison, Flores said. “He violated our law so he should be detained here.”

Gabriela called on Filipinos to remain vigilant so that the verdict against Pemberton would not be reversed as what happened to the case of US Marine Daniel Smith in 2005.

“We challenge the Philippine government to stand by the Olongapo Regional Trial Court’s decision to imprison Pemberton at the [National Bilibid Prison] and assert Philippine sovereignty despite the existing Visiting Forces Agreement,”said Gabriela secretary-general Joms Salvador.

“The court find lapses in the case [that’s why he was sentenced with homicide and not murder]. Nevertheless, this is a preliminary victory,” Salvador said.

Bayan Muna’s Renato Reyes said the group was glad that the court found Pemberton guilty beyond reasonable doubt in the killing of Laude, but said Pemberton’s prison sentence of six to 12 years was too short considering the nature of the crime.

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“It is problematic in the sense that it allows for a shorter sentence. Pemberton can still appeal. The fight is not truly over as he can pull a Daniel Smith to have his conviction reversed,” Reyes said.

He also challenged the government to place Pemberton at the National Bilibid Prison without special treatment and sought for the termination of the VFA.

“The VFA… is the basis for the continuing presence of US troops in the country. Many of these soldiers go on rest and recreation trips which are usually the condition where crimes are committed,” he added.

Salvador warned the people against a possible “political maneuvering” between the US and Philippine governments so that Pemberton would not face the full consequences of his crime.

“There is still a bigger legal and political battle to confront, especially that the VFA has vaguely worded provisions on custody and jurisdiction of criminals,” Salvador added.

Saying that “justice has been done” to the family of Laude, Vice President Jejomar Binay welcomed the conviction of Pemberton.

‘Job well done’

“The Vice President also cites the government prosecutors and private lawyers, including University of the Philippines Harry Roque, for a job well done,” Binay’s political spokesperson Rico Quicho said.

In a statement, Quicho also said Binay did not think ties with the country and the United States would be affected by the decision of the Olongapo City regional trial court “as the case involved a criminal offense and the court ruled based on evidence.”

Also welcoming the court’s verdict was Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos.

“This is a triumph of justice and let it be known to all that our judicial institutions are strong and vibrant and our system here in the Philippines works fair and impartial,” Marcos said in a statement. With a report from Christine O. Avendaño

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TAGS: Jeffrey Laude, Jennifer Laude, Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, Pemberton
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