PHILIPPINE prison officials have put the release of convicted killer US marine Joseph Scott Pemberton on hold, pending the appeal of the victim’s family.
Mr. Pemberton, who was convicted of homicide in 2015 for killing a transgender Filipino in Olongapo City, would remain detained, Justice Undersecretary Mark L. Perete told reporters in a Viber message on Thursday, citing the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
An Olongapo trial court found Mr. Pemberton guilty of homicide in a case that had ignited anti-American sentiment in the former US colony. The court sentenced him to six to 10 years in jail.
Pemberton could have faced a life sentence had the judge granted prosecutors’ request for a murder conviction. The court cited mitigating circumstances, saying Mr. Pemberton was drunk and got confused after discovering that the person he had hired for sex was male.
Jeffrey Laude, a 26-year-old male sex worker who identified as a woman, was found strangled in October 2014 in a motel.
The court on Tuesday ordered Mr. Pemberton’s release for good conduct.
In a statement, the prison bureau said it “respects the court processes and will wait for the resolution of the filed motion for reconsideration.”
“The normal release process is on hold,” it said. “Pemberton remains under custody of BuCor at its extension facility in Camp Aguinaldo.”
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who served as the victim’s private lawyer, said the Olongapo court’s ruling was contrary to the recommendation of the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).
He told an online news briefing the court should not have given Mr. Pemberton allowance for good credit for his educational activities while in prison
“What the judge did in deciding how he should be given credit for good conduct was an instance of judicial overreach,” Mr. Roque said in Filipino.
The court this week said the accused had paid the family of the victim P4.6 million in damages.
The victim’s family appealed his release, saying Mr. Pemberton had neither been involved in rehabilitation programs, nor had he participated in activities that would give him credits for good conduct.
It also noted that the American soldier had not been detained at the national penitentiary in Muntinlupa City. The case fueled public clamor for a review of the visiting forces agreement between the two countries in 2014.
The conviction came less than a month after former US President Barack Obama visited Manila and pledged more military aid, as the Philippines under then President Benigno S.C. Aquino III sought US support for its efforts to challenge China’s push to control disputed islets in the South China Sea.
The US had military bases in the Philippines until 1991, when the Philippine Senate ended their leases. In 1999, the Senate ratified an agreement that allowed US authorities to retain custody of soldiers accused of a crime pending trial in a Philippine court.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte in February said he was ending that military deal. His government later delayed the termination of the pact on troop deployment, which he finds to be a distraction to the world’s anti-COVID-19 efforts.
The visiting forces agreement, which allows the US to shield its servicemen from prosecution in the Philippines, has been a thorny issue for Filipino patriots who see it as a lopsided deal. The US has used the VFA at least twice to keep accused soldiers under its jurisdiction. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas