Pemberton seeks downgrade of raps
Edu Punay (The Philippine Star) - December 20, 2014 - 12:00am

OLONGAPO CITY, Philippines – More than two months after he was held for the death of a Filipino transgender, US Marine Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton appeared yesterday before an Olongapo City court where he met the family of his

supposed victim for the first time.

He underwent mandatory fingerprinting and had his mug shots taken, but was not arraigned for murder as scheduled.

His lawyers led by Rowena Garcia-Flores asked for suspension of proceedings while awaiting a Department of Justice (DOJ) ruling on their application to have the case reinvestigated and the charge downgraded to homicide.

Homicide is punishable with a maximum prison term of 20 years, compared to 40 years for murder.

The handcuffed Pemberton, in gray suit and under heavy guard by US and Filipino soldiers, was presented to Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde of Regional Trial Court Branch 74 for booking and arraignment for the killing of Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in October. It was the first time that Pemberton appeared in public since Laude’s death.

“It is a legal remedy available to them, but it is essentially a dilatory tactic,” said Laude family lawyer Virginia Suarez.

The DOJ has not yet received the motion for a reinvestigation of the case.

The court suspended proceedings and set the next hearing on Monday for the decision on the defense’s motion.

The court also issued a commitment order for Pemberton to remain in detention at the Mutual Defense Board Security Engagement Facility at Camp Aguinaldo.

After the hearing at the Hall of Justice, Pemberton was immediately driven back in an SUV to his detention cell at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City.

Laude kin angry

Laude’s sister Marilou said she had mixed feelings on meeting Pemberton for the first time. “I was angry but at the same time afraid. I wanted to ask him why he did it. I wanted to slam his head against a wall, but I couldn’t because he was guarded by NCIS (Naval Criminal Investigative Service),” she told reporters after yesterday’s proceedings.

“We locked eyes briefly but he averted his gaze. I think he recognized that I’m the sister of Jennifer,” Marilou said.

She added Pemberton had an “innocent face,” and so “I wanted to ask him why he wanted my sister dead.”

She said they were able to take pictures of Pemberton inside the court, but authorities confiscated their cell phones.

Despite her anger, Marilou admitted it was also a relief to see Pemberton and be assured that the accused is still in the country.

A lawyer for the Laude family, Harry Roque Jr., said the appearance of Pemberton was an initial victory in their quest for justice.

“This is victory number two, but the bigger issue is his custody,” he stressed.

The lawyer argued the court and not the Department of Foreign Affairs should resolve the issue. He was reacting to the DFA’s giving up on pushing for Philippine custody for Pemberton.

“The DFA cannot dictate upon the court. It can only file manifestation but it is still the court that will decide, and our courts belong to an independent branch of our government,” he stressed.

Roque also said that they would file another motion with the RTC for the transfer of Pemberton to the city jail.  

Suarez, the other lawyer for the Laude family, said they would also file a motion for the court hearing to be open to the public.

Security was tight in and around the Hall of Justice. Members of the media were not allowed to enter the courtroom, forcing them to wait for the proceedings to end at the lobby of the Hall of Justice.

A small group opposed to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) held a rally outside.

Also yesterday, two US Navy ships carrying an undetermined number of troops arrived in Olongapo for a port visit and to replenish supplies.

The USS Richard Byrd and USS Carl Brasher docked at the Alava Pier yesterday morning. The ships are expected to stay at the freeport for the next three days.

Mayor Rolen Paulino said this could indicate that US Navy ships may resume their port calls to Subic earlier than expected.

“It’s a positive development that these US Navy ships are starting to come back despite the ongoing case,” the mayor said.

He said US military servicemen are always welcome in the city, which hosted the biggest US overseas military facility for nearly a century.

The high-profile case has inflamed anti-US feelings in the Philippines and strained diplomatic relations between the long-time allies.

Shortly after being linked to Laude’s death, Pemberton was held on the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu. His superiors refused to hand him over to Philippine authorities, saying the VFA allows the US to keep custody of its personnel on trial for criminal offense in the Philippines. Ambassador Philip Goldberg reiterated the US position in a recent TV interview.

Laude was found dead shortly before midnight of Oct.11 inside a rented room he shared with Pemberton. Witnesses said the pair went to the hotel after having some drinks at a nearby bar. Pemberton was among the 3,500 US troops who took part in joint military exercise with Filipino soldiers in Subic.

Protests

Meanwhile, the Communist Party of the Philippines and some militant organizations have condemned the US for its refusal to turn over Pemberton to local authorities. The groups also demanded the repeal of the VFA.

In a statement, the CPP said it “joins the Filipino people in condemning the US government and military for rejecting the Philippine government’s request to have custody of US marine serviceman Joseph Scott Pemberton.” It also renewed its call for the abrogation of the VFA.

“That the VFA has again prevented the Philippine government from exercising full jurisdiction over a criminal case involving a US serviceman demonstrates once more that it is an overwhelmingly lopsided agreement favoring the US military and is violative of Philippine sovereignty,” it added.

The CPP also scored the Philippine government for what it described as “torpid” response to the US position and for its refusal to assert full jurisdiction over the murder case.

“Like dejected minions, Aquino’s officials failed to go beyond expressing ‘disappointment’ over the position of the US government to retain custody of Pemberton,” it said.

Kaisa Ka, a grassroots-based organization espousing “women’s liberation and over-all social change,” said it is “worried that the US government’s insistence that it keeps custody of a soldier accused of murdering a Filipina trans woman will further strengthen the thinking among US soldiers that they can get away with murder, and practically with any crime in the Philippines.”

It also called the US position “another mockery of Philippine sovereignty.”

Kaisa Ka said Filipinos had seen enough of American military abuses when the country was still host to two of the biggest US naval and air force facilities.

“This practice of the US to override justice system and laws emphasizes the US’s dominance over weaker states such as the Philippines,” Kaisa Ka said.

The group challenged the Aquino administration to show that it is leading a sovereign government by demanding Philippine custody of Pemberton.

‘Highly condemnable’

Anakpawis party-list Rep. Fernando Hicap, for his part, described the US government’s refusal to waive custody of Pemberton “highly condemnable.”

“The people should strongly demand not only for the Philippine government to assert custody of the American soldier while the murder case is still being prosecuted, but also for the immediate termination of the VFA,” he said.

He noted that recent developments in the Laude case were a “clear demonstration that VFA is favorable to the US and disadvantageous to Filipinos.”

He also called US insistence on keeping custody of Pemberton “a slap in the face of the Filipinos” and proof that the Aquino administration is helpless in upholding the justice system and national sovereignty. 

“We could not even decide independently within our own territory. What’s the use of keeping him president?” He also assailed the administration for being incapable of protecting the welfare of Filipinos against American abuses.

“The US government’s undercutting of the Philippine justice system is just one of the many examples of how it has been acting out its superpower status, along with its brazen disregard of international laws and conventions as recently disclosed by reports of its use of torture methods against imprisoned suspected terrorists,” Hicap said. – With Jaime Laude, Alexis Romero, Ding Cervantes, Ric Sapnu, Jaime Laude,

AQUINO CAMP AGUINALDO COURT CUSTODY GOVERNMENT HALL OF JUSTICE KAISA KA LAUDE PEMBERTON PHILIPPINE
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