MANILA – The decision of an Olongapo court to allow the early release of United States (US) Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton is an act of “judicial overreach,” Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Thursday.
Roque said the order of Olongapo City Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 74 for the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to release Pemberton set a “very bad” precedent.
“It turns out na ang desisyon po ng hukuman ay labag po o (that the court’s decision is a violation of or) contrary to the recommendation made by the Bureau of Corrections,” Roque said in a virtual press conference.
In a decision dated September 1, Olongapo RTC Branch 74 Presiding Judge Roline Ginez- Jabalde ruled that Pemberton has a total accumulated time served with entitlement of Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) of 10 years, one month, and 10 days.
Ginez-Jabalde said Pemberton has already served a jail time that is “more than the 10 years maximum penalty imposed by this court and affirmed by Court of Appeals”.
Roque, however, said the decision on granting GCTA is an “executive function”.
“So ang ginawa po ni judge na siya na ang nag-desisyon kung paano siya bibigyan ng (the judge’s action deciding on giving) credit for good conduct is an instance of judicial overreach),” he said.
Roque added that it was unnecessary to order the early release of Pemberton because the court’s decision is “not yet final and executory”.
In a separate statement, the Department of Justice said Pemberton cannot walk free yet, pending a court’s resolution on the motion for reconsideration filed by Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude, who was killed by the US marine in 2014.
On October 11, 2014, Laude was found dead inside a bathroom of a motel in Olongapo City after a night out with Pemberton.
Pemberton in December 2015 was sentenced to imprisonment ranging from six to 10 years for his admission of killing Laude.
Roque, who once served as the private legal counsel for the Laude family, said it was unfortunate that the court authorized the release of Pemberton for his supposed good behavior.
“Hindi pupwede na trinato na parang hayop ang mga kababayan natin, tapik lang sa kamay ang parusa (It’s unacceptable that he treated our fellow countrymen as an animal, and yet, the punishment is like you just tap his hand),” he said.
Impact on VFA
Pemberton’s case was revived when President Rodrigo Duterte decided to abrogate the Philippines’ Visiting Forces Agreement with the US.
It was on February 11 this year when the Philippines informed the US about its decision to revoke the VFA, a military deal inked in 1998 to allow American troops who are participating in joint military drills to go to Manila sans passport and visa.
The VFA remains in effect after Duterte ordered on June 1 the suspension of VFA abrogation “in light of political and other developments in the region”.
Roque said the court’s decision on Pemberton’s case would have an impact on VFA, emphasizing that the death of Laude is “symbolic of the death of Philippine sovereignty”.
“Dahil ang desisyon ni Presidente ay tapusin na itong VFA na ito, ito po ang tunay na pagbibigay ng katarungan kay Jennifer Laude (The President’s decision is to terminate VFA, and this means we are seeing justice served in Jennifer Laude’s case),” he said. (PNA)