Duterte gov't can appeal early release of US soldier in transgender killing

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 03 2020 03:28 PM | Updated as of Sep 03 2020 05:09 PM

MANILA - The Philippine government can appeal the early release of a US Marine convicted for killing a Filipino transgender woman in 2014, Malacañang said Thursday as the agency in charge for Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton's custody announced it is deferring the implementation of such order.

An Olongapo court made a "judicial overreach" in declaring Pemberton, who was sentenced in December 2015 to 6 to 10 years in prison for homicide over the slay of Jennifer Laude, eligible for release, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who also served as counsel of the Laude family, said.

Pemberton on Tuesday was granted early release by Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74, saying he was eligible for the privilege under a law that shortens jail time due to good conduct.

"Sa mga naghahawak po sa pagkatao ni Pemberton, hayaan niyo naman, bigyan niyo ng pagkakataon na mag-move for reconsideration ang executive branch dahil ang desisyon naman po for allowance for good conduct is an executive function," Roque said in a Palace press briefing.

(To those who have custody over Pemberton, allow the executive branch to move for reconsideration of the court's decision because the decision on allowance for good conduct is an executive function.)

Roque added that allowing the early release of Pemberton sets a "very bad" precedent as it shows the disregard for Filipino life, noting that Laude's death is equivalent to the "symbolic death" of Philippine sovereignty.

"Parang pinapakita na hindi mahalaga ang buhay ng Pilipino," Roque said.

(It seems that a Filipino's life is not important.)

Earlier in the day, Gabriel Chaclag, spokesperson of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), the custodian of Pemberton while imprisoned inside the Philippine military's main camp in Quezon City, said the agency has already received the court order directing the release of the American soldier.

But the BuCor is putting on hold Pemberton's release as it awaits resolution of the motion for reconsideration filed by Laude's family.

Roque also received confirmation from BuCor chief Gerald Bantag that Pemberton's release will not be processed yet, as advised by the Department of Justice, pending the resolution of the appeal.

"Wag niyo muna palalabasin po dahil hindi pa naman final and executory ang desisyon na yan. Pwede pa po mag-motion for reconsideration ang Republika ng Pilipinas," Roque said.

(Don't release him yet because the decision is not yet final and executory. The Republic of the Philippines can still file a motion for reconsideration.)

Pemberton's case sparked protests by transgender rights activists after the US soldier admitted during trial that he hit and choked Laude after finding out that the latter had male genitals during an intimate act. A forensic pathologist testified that Laude died of asphyxia.

Apart from prison time, Pemberton was ordered to pay her heirs over P4 million in damages. The Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict in 2017.

The Sept. 1 court order showed Pemberton's camp paid damages to the Laude family in full - a total of P4.65 million- on Aug. 25, 2020.