“There remains the possibility that the VFA may again snag another convicted criminal from being penalized under the full extent of Philippine laws.”
By DEE AYROSO
MANILA – More than a year after Filipina transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude was killed by US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton in Olongapo City in what many denounced as a “hate crime,” an Olongapo regional trial court judge today found the accused American guilty of homicide.
Olongapo City regional trial court Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde of Branch 74 sentenced the 20-year-old Pemberton to six to 12 years in prison, and ordered his temporary commitment to the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, pending an agreement between the Philippine and US authorities on his place of detention.
The court also granted a total of P4.6 million ($97,500) in damages to the Laude family.
Pemberton, however, was brought to the same detention facility of the Joint US Military Assistance Group (Jusmag) inside the Armed Forces of the Philippines headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, to the chagrin of the activists who have been protesting outside the Olongapo city Hall of Justice in Zambales province, and at the US embassy in Manila. They said Pemberton should serve his full sentence in a Philippine jail.
After the three-hour reading of the promulgation at past 4 p.m., Pemberton’s turnover to Philippine authorities was stalled, until 5:20 p.m., when his counsel filed a motion for clarification about the Ph-US agreement on detention that was referred to in the decision.
Philippine Commission on the Visiting Forces (PCVF) Executive Director Eduardo Oban Jr. manifested in court that Pemberton should be detained at the Jusmag facility, under the custody of the Bureau of Corrections (Bucor), according to a Memorandum of Agreement between the Bucor, the Department of Justice, and the Philippine National Police.
Public Prosecutor Emilie delos Santos did not comment on the motion, saying it was beyond their authority to comment.
Judge Ginez-Jabalde then issued an order for Pemberton’s temporary detention at the Jusmag facility, pending the submission to the court within five days of the said MOA, otherwise, he will be turned over to the National Bilibid Prison.
Pemberton had been confined in the Jusmag facility under US custody since October 2014.
“The US again displays overweening arrogance when it refuses to follow a court order placing convicted US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton in a Philippine jail. The US disrespect of our courts is so brazen. The standoff in the Olongapo RTC again highlights the problems with the VFA and how it remains an affront to our sovereignty. We condemn the Philippine DOJ for siding with the US on this issue. There will not be complete justice for Jennifer Laude if the issue of Philippine custody is not addressed said Renato Reyes Jr, Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) secretary general.
On Oct. 11, 2014, Laude was found dead in a bathroom in Room 1 of Celzone Lodge in Olongapo City, Zambales, with her head slumped in the toilet bowl. Laude and Pemberton had met at Ambyanz Disco Bar at 10:50 p.m., after which they proceeded to the nearby Celzone.
Pemberton, who was then only 19 and ranked as private first class, was a participant in the Philippine–US Bilateral Exercises (Phiblex 14) under the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).
The court rejected Pemberton’s defense that another person killed Laude, as he claimed he left her alive after choking her in an arm-lock. The decision said Pemberton was positively identified by witnesses as the last person who was with Laude before she was found dead, particularly, by Laude’s friend, Barbie Galviero, who came in with them to Celzone Lodge, and by Elias Gallamos, the motel’s cashier.
The defense tried to point to another suspect, by highlighting a report which said Laude was found clutching a piece of jewelry, and that a third DNA was found on her neck. The court, however, emphasized that the report had insufficient genetic data, and had less weight than the positive identification, testimonials and physical evidence presented by the prosecution.
The decision said Pemberton killed Laude, whose cause of death was asphyxiation due to drowning, as found out in the autopsy by police medico-legal officer Dr. Reynaldo Dave, and confirmed by another prosecution expert witness and police medico-legal officer Dr. Umbao.
The judge however, said the prosecution’s argument of treachery and cruelty in the killing had insufficient basis for it to be deemed murder. It also granted two mitigating circumstances in favor of the accused: that Pemberton was drunk and his judgement was impaired, and that he was enraged when he discovered that Laude was a “dude,” just after she had performed oral sex on him.
Judge Ginez-Jabalde granted the following amount as damages for the Laude family: P50,000 ($1,060) for civil indemnity, P4.32 ($92,000) million as damage in loss of earning capacity, P155,250 ($33,000) for reimbursement of burial and funeral expenses, P50,000 in moral damages, and P30,000 ($636) in exemplary damages.
The jail sentence for Pemberton was shortened because of the two mitigating circumstances and no aggravating circumstance, said the decision.
Ginez-Jabalde said that because of the length of Pemberton’s sentence, he is deemed a “national prisoner” who should serve his sentence in any of the penal prisons in the country. She said that according to the VFA, the Philippines could have him confined in any BuCor facility, like regular convicts. But this will be subject to negotiations between Philippine and US officials.
Serve his sentence in Philippine jail
Protesters outside the Olongapo city court called the decision “an initial victory for the Filipino people,” but feared a repeat of the 2009 case of US Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, who was convicted of rape and was committed to the Makati jail. His detention in Philippine custody was shortlived, when after a month, the victim, Suzette Nicolas, a.k.a. “Nicole,” withdrew the case, in a suspected settlement with US authorities.
Kabataan partylist Rep. Terry Ridon lauded the court decision but said shades of the VFA have “again come into play.” Ridon said the six to 12 years is “not commensurate to the crime that he has committed against our fellow Filipino.”
“There remains the possibility that the VFA may again snag another convicted criminal from being penalized under the full extent of Philippine laws. Such caveat reminds us of the case of Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith, who was able to escape like a thief in the night from the clutches of Philippine laws back in 2006. This must not happen again,” Ridon said.
“We don’t want a repeat of the Nicole case wherein Lance Corporal Smith, after having been convicted of rape, remained under US custody. The 2009 Supreme Court decision on the question of custody after conviction is clear: the Philippines assumes custody,” said Liza Maza, convenor of Pilipinong Nagkakaisa para sa Soberanya (P1nas).