VP Robredo condemns injustice in pardon of US Marine Pemberton

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 8) — Vice President Leni Robredo on Tuesday questioned President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to grant absolute pardon to Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, the US Marine convicted of killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014.

She highlighted that it was one of the many examples to prove the Duterte administration prioritizes the rich and powerful over the thousands of poor Filipinos languishing in jail for lighter crimes.

"Ang tanong nga natin: Patas at makatarungan ba ang naging desisyong ito? Isa lang ang kasong ito sa maraming patunay ng pagkiling sa makapangyarihan na nakikita natin mula sa pamahalaan. Ang nakikita natin: Kapag mahirap, may parusa; kapag mayaman at nasa poder, malaya," she said in a statement.

[Translation: We are asking if the decision was fair and just. This case is only one of the many proof that the government coddles the powerful. From what we see, the poor are punished, but the rich are allowed to be free.]

Robredo lamented Pemberton's access to lawyers, special detention facility, quick trial, and legal options to file an appeal. She added that it's clear he has the resources to gain attention from the President of the Philippines.

"We continue to hope that the President exercises his vast powers in a manner that is fair and that benefits the common Filipino," she added.

Meanwhile, Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman said the grant of pardon is immediately executory and cannot be appealed. He said there are minimal restrictions when granting executive clemency, such as impeachment cases and election offenses, but the lawmaker said there should be a clear reason why the President is giving such privilege.

"That power, although absolute, should not be exercised with capriciousness. Kailangang merong rason, merong justified reason, clear and justified reason bakit ang isang bilanggo ay bibigyan ng absolute pardon. Dito sa kaso ni Pemberton, mukang walang gaanong rason," he told CNN Philippines.

[Translation: There should be a clear and justified reason why a prisoner is given absolute pardon. In Pemberton's case, it appears there is no such reason.]

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Duterte did not take the usual process when handing out clemency, but assured it was nothing illegal.

The usual procedure is for an inmate to apply for pardon or parole, which the Board of Pardons and Parole will evaluate. It will then submit its findings to the DOJ, which will endorse the recommendation to the President if all documents are fulfilled. 

"Nothing prevents the president from directly exercising his constitutional power to grant executive clemency at any time, because it is a personal act of grace," Guevarra said in a message.

Pemberton's lawyer, Rowena Garcia-Flores, admitted that she was surprised by Duterte's decision because she did not personally file an application for pardon for her client. She added she has no information if anyone else wrote an application to the President

The camp of Pemberton expects the American to be released from his detention facility in Camp Aguinaldo by Friday after only serving 5 years and 10 months of jail time. He will undergo the taking of fingerprints, pictures, and acquiring clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation before he can be released.

On October 11, 2014, Laude was found dead in an Olongapo City motel room after a night out with then 19-year-old Pemberton, who confessed to killing her after finding out she had male genitalia. Laude's neck was blackened with strangulation marks, head rammed into a toilet.