No Bilibid time for Pemberton
OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines—A memorandum of agreement (MOA) has been drawn up by the Philippine and US governments that will allow convicted US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton to serve his sentence at Camp Aguinaldo under the supervision of the Bureau of Corrections, lawyers said.
“We are just waiting for the official transmittal of the agreement [to Olongapo Regional Trial Court Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde],” Rowena Garcia-Flores, Pemberton’s lead counsel, told reporters on Tuesday night.
A two-hour standoff ensued after US security escorts refused to turn over Pemberton to the Philippine National Police after the court rendered the decision on Tuesday.
It ended when Jabalde acted on a motion filed by Pemberton’s lawyers that allowed their client to be returned to the Armed Forces of the Philippines custodial center in Camp Aguinaldo, where he had been detained for more than a year.
Jabalde earlier on Tuesday convicted Pemberton of homicide for the 2014 death of transgender woman Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude and sentenced him to six to 12 years in prison.
Details of the arrangement were outlined to Jabalde by an official of the Presidential Commission on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), who intervened after Jabalde directed the police to commit Pemberton at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City pending an agreement between the Philippine and US governments on where he would be eventually detained.
“It was not clear to the judge as to where Pemberton should be detained but when officials of the US Embassy and the VFA Commission explained it to her, she realized Pemberton should be detained in an area inside Camp Aguinaldo,” Flores told reporters.
The new order gave the VFA Commission five days to produce an MOA that would establish where Pemberton would be detained.
Harry Roque Jr., counsel for the Laude family, confirmed that Eduardo Oban, VFA Commission executive director, had informed Jabalde that Pemberton must serve his sentence in a mutually agreed detention facility.
“The VFA Commission must be able to produce that signed MOA, otherwise, we have to follow the first commitment order by the judge that Pemberton must be detained at NBP,” Roque said.
Roque, however, lamented the actions by Philippine officials. “Instead of asserting our sovereignty, officials of the VFA Commission were protecting the interest of the [United States],” he told the Inquirer.
The court ruled that Pemberton shoved Laude’s head into a toilet bowl inside their rented motel room in a fit of rage after discovering that Laude was a man.
Government prosecutors had charged Pemberton with murder, but Jabalde concluded that the prosecution’s evidence could not establish without reasonable doubt that the American soldier used treachery and his military training to kill Laude.
Deal cut in August
Jose Justiniano, a former justice undersecretary who had earlier supervised the soldier’s prosecution, said yesterday that talks between the Philippines and the United States started in August to settle Pemberton’s place of confinement once convicted.
“There was already an agreement that the AFP would be the custodial place. That’s why the US government is insisting that he should be brought to Camp Aguinaldo,” Justiniano said.
“The US government only holds that position because they know the conditions inside Bilibid. And that’s OK. All they’re after is the safety of their citizens. Especially since this involves a soldier, and you know how much they protect soldiers,” said Justiniano, who is now back in private practice.
US guards out
The only difference now, according Justiniano, is that Filipino correctional officers should keep watch over Pemberton’s quarters, and not US personnel as was the arrangement during the trial.
“I don’t think there’s any irregularity there. There shouldn’t be any vagueness, because the agreement specifically said he should be held at the AFP Custodial Center,” Justiniano said in a telephone interview yesterday.
Justiniano once worked as a defense lawyer for US Marines tagged in allegedly raping a local woman, nicknamed “Nicole,” in Olongapo City in November 2005. While the primary accused, Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, was initially convicted of the crime, he was let off on appeal when his accuser recanted.
Amid the outrage of Nicole’s supporters at the time, Smith, who was briefly detained at Makati City Jail, was held inside the US Embassy compound in Manila during the appeals process based on an agreement between the Philippine and US governments.
Justiniano said Pemberton could seek temporary liberty if he goes to the Court of Appeals to overturn his conviction.
“Since he was convicted already for [a lower offense of] homicide, he can apply for bail; but of course whether or not that should be granted is at the discretion of the court because there are rules that after conviction no bail shall be granted unless the court rules otherwise,” Justiniano said.
Senate President Franklin Drilon said in a statement that he believes Pemberton should be detained in Muntinlupa and that he expects the United States to comply with the court’s decision.
“Any further delay would be prejudicial to both parties,” he said.
Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said the Laude case would set a dangerous precedent for transgenders because the judge considered a mitigating circumstance (and not a qualifying circumstance for murder) Pemberton’s shock at having found out that Laude was a transgender woman.
He said being charged with homicide meant that Pemberton could be eligible for early release in three to five years. With a reports from Jerome Aning, Gil Cabacungan and Christine O. Avendaño
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