Duterte on Pemberton pardon: Allow him the good character presumption

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 9:43 p.m.) — US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, convicted for the killing of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude, should be given the presumption of good behavior while he was serving his sentence, President Rodrigo Duterte said.

In a public address aired Monday night, Duterte justified his grant of a pardon to Pemberton, which effectively extinguished the US serviceman's criminal liability and would render court proceedings on the Laude family’s appeal moot.

The Olongapo Regional Trial Court Branch 74 on September 1 ordered the early release of Pemberton, after it took into account time allowances he earned for his good behavior, following the Good Conduct and Time Allowance law.

According to the court ruling, the Bureau of Corrections had said the computation presented by Pemberton’s lawyer is “partially incorrect,” as they pointed out that he was only received by the bureau on Dec. 1, 2015.

GCTA Pemberton earned in his prior confinement before this—at the military headquarters, under the Visiting Forces Agreement—must be credited by the BuCor director, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and jail warden, the bureau argued, citing Section 5 of RA 10592, or the GCTA Law.

The court on Monday told the BuCor to submit an updated computation and explain whether Pemberton is eligible for GCTA.

READ: Laude family's lawyer: GCTA should not apply on Pemberton's case | Pemberton's early release for good conduct raises questions from Laude family

But Duterte said Pemberton should not be faulted for this as neither he nor the military are required to keep a record of his character while inside prison.

"Garrison never kept a record... That’s not the work of the marines, to stand guard because they are not BJMP or from Muntinlupa (where the BuCor is)," he said.

The president added: “It’s not the fault of Pemberton that it was not computed because we should allow him the good character presumption because no one reported from the marines of his bad behavior.”

Duterte also argued that Pemberton deserves to be credited with good conduct time since there was no record of him committing unruly behavior while in prison.

"The marines could have reported otherwise to the secretary of justice, to the police... that he was shouting like a drunken man. But the presumption is, since there were no such reports, then the man did not do anything wrong. In fairness, the computation is finished, he was recommended to be released, then release him," he added.

Duterte, who has ranted about the US's supposed effort to impose its will on other countries, said he is not siding with anyone when he made the decision.

“It’s not fair. Hindi makatarungan, so I told [Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Justice Secretary Menardo Gueavarra. It’s my decision to pardon. Correct me if I’m wrong, this is how I view the case. You have not treated Pemberton fairly, so I ordered his release,” Duterte also said.

DOJ was set to file an appeal

Just a day before Duterte announced his grant of pardon, Guevarra told reporters that the motion for reconsideration that the DOJ would be filing will discuss jurisdictional issues and divergence in the GCTA computation. He also said he hoped the Office of the Solicitor General would join DOJ in the appeal.

READ: Philippine prosecutors to file opposition to Pemberton's early release next week

However, minutes before the address was aired, Guevarra told reporters that he was “consulted” before Duterte made the decision.  

He explained: “Pardon is an act of grace on the part of the president. He may exercise this plenary power of executive clemency at anytime and under any circumstance,” he added.

It is still unclear whether Pemberton had previously applied for pardon. Guevarra has yet to reply whether an application was filed.

Criminal law professor and former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te also explained that the act of granting pardon “is not a legal question—not what the basis is because the president does not need a basis to pardon.”

“It’s a political question—what’s the motivation,” he said.

Lawyers that represented the Laude family slammed Duterte's grant of pardon and said that this only "shows Filipinos have remained second-class citizens in their own country, their own welfare being secondary only to those of foreigners." — with a report from The STAR/Alexis Romero


Editor's note: A quote attributed to President Rodrigo Duterte with him saying "we have not treated Pemberton fairly" has been changed to "you have not treated Pemberton fairly" to reflect the official transcript from the Presidential Communications Operations Office.

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