Officials defend pardon for Pemberton
Presidential legal adviser Salvador Panelo said Duterte has the prerogative to grant absolute pardon to a Filipino or any foreigner, which authority is granted by the Constitution and makes the President’s act within the bounds of the law.
STAR/Joven Cagande, File
Officials defend pardon for Pemberton
Christina Mendez (The Philippine Star) - September 10, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — Administration officials were on the defensive yesterday amid criticism over President Duterte’s granting of absolute pardon to US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was convicted by a local court for killing Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in October 2014.

Presidential legal adviser Salvador Panelo said Duterte has the prerogative to grant absolute pardon to a Filipino or any foreigner, which authority is granted by the Constitution and makes the President’s act within the bounds of the law.

“First of all, the absolute pardon is in the Constitution. That’s the prerogative of the President – to extend mercy or pardon to a person in prison who has met the qualifications,” Panelo said over state-run PTV.

“Number 2, it is not true that Filipino (offenders) are locked up while the foreigners go free. That’s not true because you will see that the President has granted pardon to 139, including four foreigners and 135 Filipinos, since he assumed office,” Panelo said.

Panelo backed Duterte over the President’s statement last Monday that expressed concern over Pemberton not having been treated fairly during his detention in the country.

Panelo went on the defensive mode after critics, including Vice President Leni Robredo and human rights groups, cried foul over Duterte’s move to grant Pemberton executive pardon.

Although he did not name names, Panelo took potshots at critics who have always been attacking the President.

“So, they are mistaken here. What are they complaining about? Why is he being released immediately? Because the President (felt) we have been unfair to Pemberton,” Panelo said.

“Because we have what we call… good conduct, which provides the regulations. They say he was not entitled, but the law is clear: if you are detained while waiting for conviction, the number of days you are detained will be counted in the computation of penalty,” he added.

Since the maximum penalty slapped on Pemberton’s case is 10 years, the detention time is short of 10 months if the good conduct and preventive suspension were not given consideration, according to Panelo.

“The President pointed out his time served while (detained) at Camp Aguinaldo. There were no complaints that he violated any regulation, nor were there reports that he was into drug use or involved in smuggling prohibited materials such as pornographic materials,” Panelo said.

The other day, Robredo questioned Duterte’s decision, insinuating it as possibly unfair and unjust.

Not the only foreigner

Pemberton is not the only foreigner pardoned by Duterte, according to Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.

In an interview with ANC, Guevarra said the President has given executive clemency such as conditional pardon and absolute pardon, and commutation of sentences since assuming the presidency at noon of June 30, 2016 up to present.

“The total number of pardons given by the President, both conditional and absolute, since the time the President assumed the position as president was something like 139 pardons already, and that is a lot more than the total number of pardons given during the previous administration,” Guevarra said, concurring with Panelo’s statement.

The justice secretary added that out of the 139 executive pardons granted by Duterte, 135 were given to Filipinos and four to foreigners, some under the “prisoner swap” arranged with the United Arab Emirates.

Guevarra explained that under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), Pemberton was incarcerated alone inside a military facility at Camp Aguinaldo and guarded by military personnel, with personnel from the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) “in the periphery.”

“In other words, the arrangement was nobody (could) actually witness or observe Pemberton’s conduct or behavior while he (was) inside his cell, so for that reason, the President is saying how do we know really why (we) should deprive him of good conduct time allowance (GCTA) simply (because) nobody had observed him. It was the situation he found himself in, and it was not his fault that he ended up in that kind of arrangement because of the VFA,” Guevarra added.

There was also no complaint that Pemberton misbehaved.

The justice secretary also pointed out that there have been Filipino persons deprived of liberty (PDLs) who also benefitted from the GCTA.

Guevarra noted that based on the information given by the BuCor, since the time the GCTA’s implementing rules and regulations were revised from September last year until now, the bureau has processed GCTAs for 90 or 91 PDLs.

The GCTA was suspended last year after it was reported that former Calauan, Laguna mayor Antonio Sanchez, who was convicted of murder and rape, would be eligible for a reduction of prison sentence on account of good behavior under the GCTA.

During the interview, Guevarra also admitted that while he was surprised when the President informed him that he would pardon Pemberton, he believes Duterte’s decision “had some basis (in) his own mind” and was not “whimsical or capricious.”

Asked if anyone discussed with the President the implication of his action to grant absolute pardon to Pemberton, Guevarra said he informed the President that they have already filed a motion for reconsideration before the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74, which had ordered Pemberton’s release.

“(The President) had some points I thought it was improper for me to question… because that is really a personal act of grace, a personal act of clemency on his part, although that is still an official function so to speak. So I just didn’t say anything further since he had already appeared to make up his mind,” Guevarra added.

Meanwhile, whether or not Pemberton is deported from the Philippines, the pardoned US serviceman can leave the country.

Guevarra made the comment after the Bureau of Immigration issued a statement saying it would issue a deportation order against the 25-year-old Pemberton, after he was given absolute pardon by President Duterte.

“If there was already a final deportation order against Pemberton, and he is not contesting it, then so be it. Either way, he’s out,” Guevarra said.

‘Pemberton not powerful’

For Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr., Pemberton was not “powerful” as he was abandoned by everyone.

Locsin was reacting to the statement made by Robredo that the pardon for Pemberton was one of the numerous instances where the government favors the powerful.

“He wasn’t powerful. Everyone had ditched him, and I mean everyone. No one even asked about him from his side. Won’t argue more than that. But this is not speaking truth (to) power,” Locsin said Twitter.

“He’ll go home to no welcome except possibly among his poor own. The reality of an uneven society,” he added.

The foreign affairs chief noted that Duterte merely chose to withdraw his objection to the court’s presumption favoring the convict.

“He’ll take heat for a government decision, e.g., to let the prisoner go for time served on the observation and presumption of good behavior in detention,” Locsin said.

Last Tuesday, the foreign affairs secretary said only hardline critics of the US saw something wrong in the President’s decision to grant absolute pardon to Pemberton.

Locsin added that the absolute pardon for Pemberton was a mere “act of right and fairness.”

“There you go. Only rabid anti-Americans see wrong in an act of right and fairness. Now, America knows who are its friends and who are its implacable enemies in the Philippines,” Locsin tweeted.

He had earlier said the US did not request Duterte to pardon Pemberton and that it took even outgoing US Ambassador Sung Kim by surprise.

Locsin was the first to announce on Monday that Duterte granted absolute pardon to Pemberton. – Evelyn Macairan, Pia Lee-Brago

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