Philippines-US relations

Pemberton’s bid for early freedom through GCTA now underway

Lian Buan

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If the US Marine has a perfect record, and he is deemed entitled to all credits, Pemberton could walk free this year or next

US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton, convicted of killing a Filipino transgender woman, has started the process of availing of his deducted sentence perk and could be walking free soon.

Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete confirmed Tuesday, August 25, that the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 has started hearing Pemberton’s motion to avail of his Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA).

“I understand the Bureau of Corrections has been asked by the court to compute credits and allowances due to Pemberton under the GCTA law. In the end, however, it will be the court which will decide the proper computation of those allowances and credits,” said Perete.

Perete withheld comment on the question of whether Pemberton was eligible for GCTA anyway, given the Department of Justice’s new Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR). 

The DOJ’s new IRR excluded heinous crime convicts from the newer GCTA law or Republic Act 10592. Those convicted of heinous crimes are only entitled to the lesser GCTA under Revised Penal Code.

But asked whether homicide, the charge which Pemberton was convicted of, was considered a heinous crime, Perete said: “On that narrow question, the answer is no.”

Homicide by itself is not included among the crimes listed in the repealed death penalty law – the law which the DOJ based its definition of a heinous crime.

The GCTA was revised by the Duterte-administration DOJ because of anomalies found inside prisons, where there were allegations that this was being sold to convicts. This scandal prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to haul back to jail thousands of already-freed convicts, killing some of them in the process because of dire prison conditions.


After Laude was killed in October 2014 in Pampanga, Pemberton was immediately detained. He was convicted a year later, in December 2015, and sentenced to 10 years for homicide. The Court of Appeals has affirmed the 10-year sentence.

Under RA 10592 or the GCTA Law, if Pemberton has a perfect record, his GCTA slashes around 3.5 years from his sentence. He can also have 1 year worth of Credit for Preventive Imprisonment (CPI), or the jailtime served before conviction.

All these computed, 4.5 years could be cut from his 10-year sentence, half of which he already served. This means the American Marine could walk free this year or the next.

Pemberton has been detained in a restricted facility at the military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, a perk he enjoys because of the still standing Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the US.

The DOJ, however, still has not released its GCTA uniform manual.

Will Pemberton be allowed to avail of GCTA without a uniform manual?

“This is among the questions to be resolved by the court,” said Perete.

Pemberton withdrew last June his appeal in the Supreme Court.

He was found guilty of homicide for killing Laude by arm-locking her and dunking her head on the toilet bowl. Pemberton had oral sex with Laude but fumed upon discovering she had male genitals. –

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Lian Buan

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