MANILA — When news broke Wednesday that the US Marine behind the slay of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude was being released early on good conduct, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was first to register his outrage.
Roque served as private prosecutor for Laude's family during the trial that led to the conviction of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton in 2015.
He called the decision of the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court "deplorable." The order meant Pemberton, who was sentenced to 6-10 years in prison for homicide, was going to walk free less than 6 years since Laude's slay in October 2014.
"As former private prosecutor for the Laude family, I deplore the short period of imprisonment meted on Pemberton who killed a Filipino under the most gruesome manner," Roque said.
But hours later, the lawyer who represented Pemberton painted a completely different picture of Roque's stand on Pemberton's release.
"In fact as early as 2017 pinatawag po ako ni Harry Roque sa House of Representatives kasama ko si misis, 'yung nanay ni 'Jeffrey' (Jennifer) Laude at kasama ng isang representatives sa BuCor (Bureau of Corrections). At lahat po kami nag-agree na as early as July 2017 eh puwede na pong i-parole si Pemberton," Rowena Garcia-Flores revealed in a TeleRadyo interview.
Roque was formerly sectoral lawmaker.
"Parole" refers to the conditional release of an offender from a correctional institution after he has served the minimum of his prison sentence, according to the Revised Rules and Regulations of the Board of Pardons and Parole.
DOESN'T MAKE SENSE
When sought for comment about the allegation he brokered a deal with the Pemberton camp for the convict's early release, Roque snapped and branded Garcia-Flores' statement as a "lie."
"I vehemently deny that. That is a lie. And I am asking now the secretary general of the House of Representatives: Sir pakigawa nga po ng certification na kung ni minsan nagpunta si Atty. Flores sa aking tanggapan sa Kongreso noong ako'y Kongresista pa," he told a press briefing Thursday.
(Sir, please make a certification if at any time Atty. Flores went to my office in Congress when I was still a lawmaker.)
Roque vowed to clear his name.
"Kung ako po ay pumayag pa noong 2017, eh bakit hanggang ngayon nakakulong pa si Pemberton? It doesn't make sense po... Wala pong katotohanan 'yan and I will pursue this and I'm now formally requesting po the House SecGen to issue a certification if Atty. Flores went to my office at any time in the year of 2017."
(If I had agreed in 2017, then why is Pemberton still in prison now? It doesn't make sense... There is no truth to that and I will pursue this and I'm now formally requesting the House SecGen to issue a certification if Atty. Flores went to my office at any time in the year of 2017.)
In October 2014, Laude's body was discovered inside the bathroom of Celzone Hotel in Barangay West Tapinac, Olongapo City. Hotel staff found the lifeless Laude wrapped in a bed sheet, with her head slumped in the toilet bowl.
Initial investigation revealed Laude's neck was pressed down on the toilet seat while her head was being shoved into the toilet bowl. Pemberton admitted to choking Laude when he found out she had male genitals after an intimate act.
In an order dated September 1 and released Wednesday, Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 Judge Roline Ginez-Jabale ordered the BuCor to release Pemberton from prison unless he is being held for some other lawful cause.
The order cited that Pemberton had already served the maximum sentence of 10 years considering his time served and the GCTA grant.
Pemberton has been held at a facility at Camp Aguinaldo, instead of regular prison, per provisions of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the United States.
He remains detained as of Wednesday night, Garcia-Flores said.
Laude's family has appealed the court grant. They also said they were not aware of proceedings for Pemberton's early release.