Ex-SC spox questions Pemberton pardon as freed convicts remain in prison


Posted at Sep 15 2020 12:08 PM

Convicted killer US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 25, goes through final immigration procedure at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport for his deportation on Sunday, Sept. 13, 2020. Bureau of Immigration/handout

MANILA - The Supreme Court's former spokesman on Tuesday questioned the "imbalance" between President Rodrigo Duterte's grant of absolute pardon to an American convict while thousands of Filipinos were returned to prisons after government recalled the implementation of good conduct time allowance law.

Last year, more than 1,700 convicts freed under the GCTA law surrendered following the President's order. The law came under scrutiny for allowing the early release of heinous crime convicts who were not covered.

Lawyer Theodore Te said the Department of Justice can urge the courts to "resolve quickly" the case filed by government questioning the GCTA law.

It can also advise the President that there is "no basis" to hold freed convicts because the "orders of the court granting GCTA to them are legal orders," said Te, a member of the Free Legal Assistance Group.

"The question here is an American convict has already been granted pardon for a killing and it short-circuited his sentence but there are other Filipinos who are entitled to GCTA lawfully freed because they had served their sentence, but because of the question by the executive branch... There are many people back in Muntinlupa despite service of sentence and that is something that is very appalling," he told ANC.

"There is no question about the GCTA law. The law is clear. The only thing invalidated by the Supreme Court was that portion of the rules which did not allow retroactivity."

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Pemberton was deported to the United States Sunday, just a few days after Duterte granted him absolute pardon.

A few days before receiving absolute pardon, an Olongapo court said Pemberton was considered eligible for early release due to supposed good conduct. The DOJ was about to formally oppose the court's decision.

"The question here is whether it was arbitrarily applied or not. 
That unfortunately is a moot question because the pardon short-circuited that entire controversy," Te said.

"I would have been curious to see what exactly the opposition of the OSG (Office of the Solicitor General) and DOJ in the trial court case, how that would have been resolved by the trial court. Was GCTA, a benefit given to all convicts, applied arbitrarily in his case, was there factual basis in the first place? Unfortunately we’ll never find out."