Aquino defends cell for Pemberton amid renovation

Paterno Esmaquel II
Aquino defends cell for Pemberton amid renovation
The US reportedly wants Pemberton’s detention cell in the Philippines to meet American standards

MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Benigno Aquino III ruled out special treatment for convicted US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, even as the American’s detention cell is reportedly slated for renovation. 

In an interview with Filipino reporters in Rome, Aquino stressed that the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) provides for an “agreed upon detention facility” for convicted personnel.

Sasabihin nila, ‘O, iba na ‘yung detention facility. Special na.’ ‘Yung mga ganoong klaseng tanong, wala namang kasagutang maayos eh,” Aquino said Friday, December 4.

(They would say, “Look, the detention facility is different. It’s special.” Those kinds of questions don’t have a proper answer.)

Bottom line, bilang sovereign state, may agreement tayo with another sovereign state,” he added. (The bottom line is, as a sovereign state, we have an agreement with another sovereign state.)

Aquino made this statement after an Olongapo court ordered Pemberton detained at the Armed Forces of the Philippines Custodial Center, not the cramped New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City.

This means the convicted American will evade the plight of thousands of Filipinos. 

The New Bilibid Prison packs 23,000 inmates in a facility good for only 8,500, GMA News reported in March. 

US likely to request air-con

Pemberton was convicted on Tuesday, December 1, for killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude.

Philippine officials hailed the court ruling, but critics slammed the alleged special treatment for Pemberton.

This is because, as ABS-CBN News reported, Philippine officials will even renovate the AFP Custodial Center to suit the standards of the US.

Referring to the US, Bureau of Corrections director general Ricardo Rainier Cruz III told ABS-CBN News: “Oo, may request sila na kung puwedeng ma-improve daw. Actually, nagawa na namin ‘yon, kaya lang meron lang silang gustong idagdag pa.” 

(Yes, they already have a request to improve it. Actually, we’ve done that, but they still have additional requests.)

The US’ additional requests include a CCTV camera in the detention facility. It will also likely include repainting and air-conditioning, Cruz said.

In any case, Aquino said Filipino personnel will tightly watch Pemberton “in our facility that is in the Philippines.”

He added that the court ruling shows the ability of the Philippines to properly judge cases like this. 

“The rule of law happens in our country. It is respected by the other state. Therefore, it redounds to both parties’ benefits,” Aquino said. –

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at