Philippines-US relations

Malacañang sees ‘judicial overreach’ in Olongapo court decision on Pemberton

Pia Ranada

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The Palace says the court encroached on executive powers on granting Good Conduct Time Allowance credits

(UPDATED) Malacañang slammed the decision of an Olongapo court to approve the early release of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, saying it encroached on the executive branch’s power to grant Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA).

“Give the executive branch a chance to file a [motion] for reconsideration because the decision on allowance of good conduct is an executive function so what the judge did, where she granted credit for good conduct, is an instance of judicial overreach,” said Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque on Thursday, September 3. He used to be the lawyer of the family of Pemberton’s victim, Jennifer Laude.

Roque said he spoke earlier on Thursday with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra who said he is awaiting the Bureau of Correction’s motion for reconsideration.

“It seems that the recommendation of the Bureau of Corrections was against the decision of the court,” said the Duterte spokesman.

BuCor ordered not to release Pemberton yet

He called on those holding Pemberton, who is detained at the BuCor’s extension facility in Camp Aguinaldo, not to release him yet since the court decision is not yet final and executory. Laude’s family has filed a motion for reconsideration.

According to Roque, BuCor said the DOJ has ordered a stop to the processing of Pemberton’s release order, pending the resolution of the motion for reconsideration.

“The BuCor cannot preempt court action on the MR (motion for reconsideration) by prematurely releasing Pemberton,” DOJ spokesman Undersecretary Markk Perete said.

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Asked if Duterte has spoken about the Pemberton decision, Roque said he had no chance to get the Chief Executive’s thoughts on the matter. However, he linked the Pemberton issue with Duterte’s order to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement inked by the Philippines and the US.

“If you recall, he has ordered the abrogation of the VFA because it is not pursuant to our national interest,” said Roque.

Yet it was Duterte himself who ordered the postponement of the VFA abrogation for 6 months. He had ordered the suspension of his first order back in June, a few months into the COVID-19 pandemic.

The VFA allowed Pemberton to be detained at a restricted facility at the military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, instead of in the usual penal colony or Philippine jail.

Roque condemned the decision on Pemberton as a miscarriage of justice.

Hindi po makatarungan iyan ‘no. Pinatay po ni Pemberton si Laude na parang animal. Nilublob ang ulo sa inidoro hanggang malunod tapos binalian pa ng leeg. Hindi po tama na iyang karumal-dumal na krimen na iyan ay mapaparusahan lamang ng 5 taong pagkakakulong,” Roque said earlier on Thursday in a DZMM radio interview.

(It’s unjust. Pemberton killed Laude as if she were an animal. He dunked her head in the toilet until she drowns then broke her limb. It’s not right that such a gruesome crime will be punished by only 5 years imprisonment.)

Roque also questioned the decision, saying the court had no basis to grant full credits to Pemberton since the Bureau of Corrections, the agency with authority to grant such credits, made no such recommendation.

Pemberton was convicted in December 2015 for killing Laude, a transgender Filipina, who he was about to have sex with. Upon finding out that she had male genitals, the bulky US marine arm-locked the lanky Laude and dunked her head in the toilet bowl.

She died of asphyxia by drowning and strangulation. The court convicted Pemberton of the lesser offense of homicide and sentenced the American soldier to 10 years in prison. He has served only around 6 years so far. – With a report from Lian Buan/

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Pia Ranada

Pia Ranada is Rappler’s Community Lead, in charge of linking our journalism with communities for impact.