MANILA, Philippines — Barely six years since Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude was found dead in a bathroom in Olongapo, her neck blackened with strangulation marks, and the American soldier who killed her will soon walk free after President Rodrigo Duterte granted him an aboslute pardon.
On Monday morning, lawyer Virginia Suarez deemed as “positive development” the Olongapo Regional Trial Court Branch 74’s order to the Bureau of Corrections to explain whether US Marine L/Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton is entitled to benefit from the Good Conduct and Time Allowance law.
She and Jennifer’s family are seeking the reversal of the courts’ earlier order to release the American soldier.
Mere hours later, Suarez and the Laudes learned that Pemberton had already been pardoned. This means the American soldier who strangled Jennifer to death would soon walk free.
“Both of us were shocked to tears,” the lawyer said, referring to her and Jennifer’s sister. “Is this a big joke? Just a charade? This is really devastating, I am really shocked,” she added.
Suarez, on behalf of the Laude family, filed a motion for reconsideration to ask the court to reverse its earlier ruling that accounted more than 1,000 days of time allowances Pemberton supposedly earned for good behavior while in prison.
They asked: Is an American soldier with a solo detention facility in the Philippine military camp eligible for the GCTA law? How can they measure his “conduct” in prison when he has nobody to interact with while imprisoned in a special facility apart from the thousands of Filipinos cramped in the national penitentiary?
State prosecutors were set to join their opposition too, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said.
But all these are now scrapped. “The process is now for naught, all of the processes are useless. Even the motion that DOJ was going to file is worthless because of that declaration,” Suarez said in Fiipino.
‘Even in our country, Filipinos are second-class citizens’
In a separate statement, Suarez said that Duterte’s grant of pardon to Pemberton is “another hallmark of Philippines’ subservience to the US,” the country’s treaty ally and former colonizer.
The American serviceman’s killing of Laude “reflects the systematic discrimination and violence inflicted by US to Filipino women, children and the LGBTQ community. There is so much disrespect in the manner by which Jennifer was killed—reflective of the disrespect US has for the Philippines’ democracy and sovereignty,” the lawyer added.
Suarez also questioned why Duterte gave absolute pardon to a US soldier who committed an “atrocious crime” when many Filipinos, “are already in their twilight years serving their sentences.”
Pemberton walking free will also happen while “human rights defenders, activists, government critics and ordinary folks are being arrested and jailed for all sorts fabricated and flimsy charges, while elderly and sickly prisoners continue to be denied humanitarian release amid a deadly pandemic,” rights monitor Karapatan pointed out in a separate statement.
The Center for International Law, the firm that represented the Laude family and which was founded by presidential spokesperson Harry Roque when he was a rights lawyer, said that Pemberton’s freedom and the subsequent violation of the rights of poor Filipinos, including of Laude, “who are deemed insignificant in the scale of things.”
“The signs had been there all along — the president’s turnaround on the [Visiting Forces Agreement], [Foreign Affairs] Secretary Locsin’s statements on renewed cooperation between the US and Philippine armed forces in the South China Sea, and even a sale of US helicopters to the Philippines,” CenterLaw said.
In January this year, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to terminate the VFA — a call that progressive groups have been making for decades, including over Laude’s death — over the cancelled US visa of Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa. The process of the termination has since been put on hold.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers also questioned the timing of Duterte’s action. “It was obviously timed to pull the rug under everyone’s feet and pre-empt the possibility of any other adverse result to his case while the legal debate is still brewing on the applicability of the GCTA on him,” NUPL president Edre Olalia said.
CenterLaw added the president’s pardon of Pemberton “shows Filipinos have remained second-class citizens in their own country, their own welfare being secondary only to those of foreigners.”
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