Locsin: No âexchangeâ for Pemberton release
This undated file photo shows US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton.
STAR/file
Locsin: No ‘exchange’ for Pemberton release
Christina Mendez, Pia Lee-Brago (The Philippine Star) - September 11, 2020 - 12:00am

Roque believes pardon was granted for US vaccine priority

MANILA, Philippines — There was no “exchange” in the absolute pardon granted by President Duterte to convicted killer US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. tweeted yesterday.

“There is no exchange. I clinched that purely on my charm with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo,” Locsin said, apparently to dispel speculations that Duterte’s pardon of Pemberton was in exchange for a political favor.

But for presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr., Duterte had the “higher national interest” in mind when he made the decision.

“I think the decision of the President – this is my personal opinion – the grant of pardon to Pemberton is part of the President’s intent that we can get access to the vaccines, if ever, from America, that the Philippines may also benefit from it,” Roque said.

US President Donald Trump earlier said a vaccine for COVID-19 would be ready in the US by Nov. 1.

“I’m not surprised since it is the time of a pandemic and the President has underscored the need to get vaccines for the Filipinos,” Roque added.

The US is one of the countries developing a vaccine for COVID-19, which has killed some 900,000 people worldwide, including 4,066 in the Philippines as of yesterday.

Locsin said the US did not request Duterte to pardon Pemberton, and that even outgoing US Ambassador Sung Kim was “surprised” by the decision.

Locsin was first to announce – also through Twitter – Duterte’s granting Pemberton absolute pardon.

Roque maintained that justice has already been served for the killing of transgender Jennifer Laude, albeit Pemberton’s time in prison was a few months shy of the maximum term handed down by the Olongapo City regional trial court.

Absolute pardon did not extinguish criminal and administrative liability, Roque emphasized, adding granting of pardon is the highest of all presidential authority, which cannot be questioned by anybody.

A former counsel for the Laude family, Roque said he was not surprised by the President’s move to pardon the convicted US servicemen, claiming it’s not an indication that he and the President have different opinions.

“There is no difference at all (in opinions). I think the President and I are the same in pushing for independent foreign policy. I think we are consistent (in the belief) that we should be friends to all, enemy to no one,” he said at a virtual press briefing yesterday from his residence.

Roque did not discount the possibility that Duterte and Trump had discussed the vaccine issue during their phone conversation a few months ago.

As former lawyer to the Laude family, Roque also said he does not see anything wrong about the way Duterte handled the Pemberton issue.

He stressed his stance on the Laude murder issue has not changed – that it’s “symbolic of the death of Philippine sovereignty.”

He maintained that he shares with the President the position that the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) should be terminated.

“The President and I are one in his decision to terminate the VFA, which has been suspended momentarily, but the President’s decision has not changed,” he pointed out. It was based on the VFA that Pemberton was made to serve his sentence at the Armed Forces of the Philippines custodial facility at Camp Aguinaldo and not at the national penitentiary.

Although the Pemberton case is close to his heart, Roque said he understands the need for the President to rise above the controversy and work in the best interest of the nation.

“So for me, I am accepting the reality that there is greater interest being pushed by the President. And moreover, (the grant of) pardon and parole are presidential of all presidential functions. Nobody can question it since we elected him as President, we gave him this authority, without subject to any reservations,” he added.

JOSEPH SCOTT PEMBERTON
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