Access to US COVID-19 vaccine? Roque says Pemberton pardon upholds greater national interest

Arianne Merez, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Sep 10 2020 03:00 PM

Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque says he is "comfortable" with President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to grant absolute pardon to convicted killer US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, citing a greater national interest. Roque, who served as counsel for the family of Pemberton's victim Jennifer Laude, earlier protested a court grant for the soldier's early release. File


MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte's grant of absolute pardon to convicted killer US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton upholds greater national interest, including possible access to COVID-19 vaccines from the US, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who had helped prosecute the soldier.

Roque, who lawyered for the family of Pemberton's victim— slain transgender Filipino woman Jennifer Laude, said he is "comfortable" with the President's decision as he claimed that it was for the national interest.

"Bagama't tayo po ang tumayong abogado ng pamilyang Laude eh kung ang ibig sabihin naman niyan ay lahat ng Pilipino ay magkakaroon ng vaccine kung ang mga Amerikano ang maka-develop, wala po akong problema diyan," Roque said during a Palace press briefing.

(Even though I stood as lawyer of the Laude family, if it means that all Filipinos will have access to vaccines if Americans develop it first, I have no problem with it.)

The US is among countries at the lead of developing a COVID-19 vaccine along with China, the United Kingdom, and Russia. 

The Philippines has signified interest in joining vaccine clinical trials in the hopes that it could be among the first countries to acquire a drug against the rapidly-spreading virus.

Duterte earlier this week pardoned Pemberton, convicted in 2015 for killing Laude, just days after a local court ruled that the soldier is eligible for early release under a law that shortens jail time due to good conduct.

Roque had protested the court grant, saying allowing the early release of Pemberton sets a "very bad" precedent as it shows the disregard for Filipino life, noting that Laude's death is equivalent to the "symbolic death" of Philippine sovereignty.

On Thursday, Roque stood by his earlier remarks that Laude's death is like the "symbolic death" of the country's sovereignty even as he noted that he was no longer surprised with the President's decision.

"Hindi na po ako nasorpresa sa totoo lang po. Bakit po? Kasi alam ko po na may mas mataas o mas importanteng national interest na kiinakailangan pangalagaan ang Presidente," Roque said.

(I was no longer surprised to be honest. Why? Because I know the President is pursuing a higher or more important national interest.)

BARGAINING TOOL?

In linking the grant of pardon to Pemberton to possible access to COVID-19 vaccines, Roque maintained that justice has been served for the Laude family with the conviction of the US Marine. 

"Nagtagumpay po kami, na-convict po namin si Pemberton. Ang binura lang po ni Presidente 'yung karagdagang parusa kung mayroon pa. Hindi po binura ni Presidente 'yung desisyon na mamamatay tao po si Pemberton," Roque said.

(We succeeded because we convicted Pemberton. What the President erased is additional penalties but he did not erase the decision that Pemberton is a killer.)

"Hindi po pampalit si Jennifer Laude dahil nakamit po namin ang katarungan. Napakulong po namin si Pemberton, nagbayad po ng P4 million plus na danyos si Pemberton sa pamilya [ni Laude]," he added.

(Jennifer Laude is not a bargaining tool because justice was served. We had Pemberton jailed and he paid over P4 million in damages to the Laude family.)

Pemberton killed Laude on Oct. 11, 2014 at a motel in Olongapo City, north of the capital Manila, after finding out that the former had male genitals after an intimate act. 

Her body was found wrapped in a bedsheet with her head slumped in the toilet bowl. A forensic pathologist testified that Laude died of asphyxia. Pemberton admitted to choking her.

Pemberton was in the country at the time the crime was committed for a military exercise involving Philippine and US troops. He was sentenced in December 2015 to 6 to 10 years in prison for homicide.