Philippine justice system

Guevarra: Pemberton case closed, ‘let’s move on’

Lian Buan
Guevarra: Pemberton case closed,  ‘let’s move on’
As far as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra is concerned, any GCTA question in relation to American soldiers is also case closed: 'GCTA applies to all, including aliens'

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on Friday, September 11, that it’s time for Filipinos to “move on” in relation to the case of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, since President Rodrigo Duterte has already explained why he granted the soldier absolute pardon.

“[The President] has explained his reason for granting pardon to Mr Pemberton. For me, that’s the end of the story,” Guevarra told reporters on Friday, September 11.

“Let’s move on,” the justice secretary added.

Guevarra was also asked for comment on Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s speculation that Duterte might have pardoned Pemberton in exchange for access to future US coronavirus vaccine. Roque used to be a lawyer of the family of Pemberton’s victim, transwoman Jennifer Laude.

“I cannot speculate on the President’s motives,” Guevarra said in response.

Pemberton was in the process of being released and deported to the US on Friday afternoon. The process took place inside his special detention facility at the Philippine military headquarters, Camp Aguinaldo.

Pemberton was convicted of homicide for killing Laude. He had only served 6 of his 10-year sentence when Duterte granted him absolute pardon.

‘My sentiments are irrelevant’

The Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) had opposed Pemberton’s early release under the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA), but their work was undermined by Duterte’s snap decision to pardon the US soldier.

“I consider this matter closed. My sentiments are irrelevant,” said Guevarra.

“I defer to the personal judgment of the President on matters within his constitutional prerogative,” he added.

Before Duterte pardoned Pemberton, there were pressing questions not only about Pemberton’s GCTA but also the GCTA, in general. One question is whether the law applies to US soldiers protected by the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).

The OSG earlier contended the good conduct certification of Pemberton because it came from the US Marine Corps, and not the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor), as mandated by law. The Laudes questioned the integrity of a GCTA computation for someone like Pemberton, who is isolated.

There were also questions on whether the GCTA law covers VFA-protected servicemen at all.

As far as Guevarra is concerned, those issues are also considered case closed.

“The GCTA law will apply to all persons, including aliens, convicted by final judgment by a Philippine court with competent jurisdiction and serving sentence in Philippine correctional institutions, unless non-application of GCTA to certain persons is expressly provided for by law or by international treaties or agreements,” said Guevarra.

Asked if the DOJ will put this in its Uniform GCTA Manual, which has yet to be released, Guevarra said, “We can continue discussing this later.”

“Please allow us to focus on PhilHealth for now. We are rushing our report. Thank you for your understanding,” he added.

The DOJ is the lead agency in a task force assigned by Duterte to investigate alleged fraud in state health insurer Philippine Health Corporation or PhilHealth. –

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan is a senior investigative reporter, and minder of Rappler's justice, human rights and crime cluster.