Leni Robredo

Robredo hits Pemberton pardon: ‘Kapag mahirap, may parusa; kapag mayaman, malaya’

Mara Cepeda

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Robredo hits Pemberton pardon: ‘Kapag mahirap, may parusa; kapag mayaman, malaya’

Vice President Leni Robredo addresses the media after the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, announced its latest action in relation to the electoral protest filed by losing candidate Bongbong Marcos. (Photo by Charlie Villegas / OVP)

Vice President Leni Robredo says it was 'unfair' for Duterte to pardon the convicted American soldier when thousands of jailed Filipinos are too poor to get their own lawyers

Vice President Leni Robredo said the absolute pardon granted to murder convict US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton only proves that President Rodrigo Duterte’s government favors the rich and the privileged. 

The Vice President made the scathing remarks on Tuesday, September 8, as she slammed Duterte’s controversial decision to pardon the killer of transgender Filipina Jennifer Laude. 

“Isa lang ang kasong ito sa maraming patunay ng pagkiling sa makapangyarihan na nakikita natin mula sa pamahalaan. Napakaraming mga Pilipino na mas magaan ang sala, ngunit hindi nabibigyang-pansin o nabibigyan ng ganitong uri ng pribilehiyo,” Robredo said in a statement.

(This is just one of many other cases proving that our government favors the powerful. There are many Filipinos who have committed lesser crimes, but they were not granted this privilege.)

“Ang nakikita natin: Kapag mahirap, may parusa; kapag mayaman at nasa poder, malaya,” added the lawyer turned Vice President.

(This is what we can see: when you are poor, you are punished; when you are rich and privileged, you get your freedom.)

The Vice President said thousands of Filipinos continue to languish in jail because they are too poor to pay for lawyers who can appeal their cases. 

Then there’s Pemberton, an American soldier who is able to afford a team of lawyers, who was brought to special detention facilities, and who was given a “quick” public trial and appeal. 

“Ang tanong nga natin: patas at makatarungan ba ang naging desisyong ito? Libo-libo ang nakakulong pa rin dahil walang pambayad sa abugado…. Ngayon, lalong luminaw na mayroon din siyang (Pemberton) resources para masigurong mabibigyang-pansin ng mismong Pangulo ang kaso niya,” Robredo said. 

(Our question is: is this decision fair and just? Thousands are still in jail because they can’t pay for a lawyer… Now, it’s clear that he has all the resources to ensure the President would pay attention to his case.)

Pemberton – who was part of an American team that joined military exercises with Filipino troops – had been sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2015 over the killing of Laude in 2014. 

The US soldier was not aware Laude was a transgender when he was about to have sex with her at a motel in Olongapo City. He was enraged after discovering that she had male genitals. Pemberton then choked Laude to death then dunked her head in the toilet bowl of their motel room. (READ: Remembering ‘Ganda’: The tragedy of Jennifer Laude)

Last week, an Olangapo court ruled to free Pemberton 4 years earlier than his scheduled release due to his Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) credits – a privilege granted to the American soldier even as thousands of Filipino convicts wait for their chance at freedom.

The Laude family immediately petitioned to bar Pemberton’s early release, but this is now moot following Duterte’s absolute pardon of the US Marine.

On Tuesday, Robredo said she continues to hope that Duterte would exercise “his vast powers in a manner that is fair and that benefits the common Filipino.”

The President has already received widespread condemnation for pardoning Pemberton, with lawmakers calling him an “American lackey” and tagging his decision as an “affront to the Filipino people.”

Still, Duterte stood by his decision and insisted the Philippine government was “not fair” to the US soldier over its failure to accurately compute his GCTA credits under Philippine law.  – Rappler.com

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Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda specializes in stories about politics and local governance. She covers the Office of the Vice President, the Senate, and the Philippine opposition. She is a 2021 fellow of the Asia Journalism Fellowship and the Reham al-Farra Memorial Journalism Fellowship of the UN. Got tips? Email her at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or tweet @maracepeda.