A quest for justice

rp_Chito-Parazo-300x173.jpgThe quest for justice being sought by family and friends of Jeffrey “Jennifer Laude, a Filipino transgender slain last year by a 19-year old American serviceman, is far from over.

There appears to be a slim chance that the Laude family will get the kind of justice that they hope to get, in spite the recent conviction of Laude’s assailant.

Laude was killed inside the bathroom of a motel in Olongapo City by Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, a US Marine, who mistook the former as a woman. Laude’s lifeless naked body was found by motel employees, with her head leaning on the outer edge of a toilet bowl.

The Olongapo Regional Trial Court Branch 74 convicted this week Pemberton for the death of Laude and sentenced him to six to 12 years imprisonment for homicide.

The Judge also ordered that Pemberton be transferred immediately to the National Bilibid Prison (NBP), away from his comfortable prison quarters in Camp Aguinaldo.

Pemberton’s trip to the NBP was however temporarily halted by the court as a result of diplomatic issues raised by American officials who were with the convicted American soldier during the sentencing.

In refusing to hand over Pemberton to members of the Philippine National Police (PNP),  US officials claimed that under Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), American soldier convicted of a crime in the Philippines shall be detained in a facility agreed upon by the governments of both countries.

They were also claiming that a provision in the VFA has guaranteed that even convicted American soldier accused of a crime, is entitled to get “special treatment.”

As a result of the issues raised by American officials, the court modified its earlier ruling committing Pemberton to NBP.

It must have been difficult for the Laude family to watch Pemberton being escorted by his fellow Americans out of the courtroom and driven back to Camp Aguinaldo, in the presence of our police officers who stood powerless to enforce our own law.

The Judge who handed down the decision convicting Pemberton should have stood his ground and enforced the law without compromise, despite the adamant refusal of US military officials who attended the hearing to hand over Laude’s assailant to our own police officers for custody.

I am not a lawyer, but I think that the presiding Judge has the authority to order the arrest of these overbearing US embassy or military officials for refusing to comply with our laws. What these American officials did was a travesty of our own country’s judicial system.

Harry Roque, legal counsel of the Laude family, must have been exasperated over the apparent helplessness of our police officers to enforce our own laws in our own country.  This I find very pathetic.
So in spite of Pemberton’s conviction, the case appears to be far from over as both the prosecution and defense panels indicated their strong desire to appeal the recent court ruling.jennifer laude rally

The prosecution is claiming that the court appeared to have erred in not finding out that there was  cruelty and treachery when Laude was killed by Pemberton.

The court, on the other hand, is saying in its decision that the “killing of Laude amounted only to homicide and did not meet the standards for murder.”

The court also found out that “Pemberton was acting only out of passion and obfuscation and that in the heat of passion, he arm-locked Laude and plunged her head in the toilet bowl.”

The defense, as expected, wants Pemberton to be acquitted from the charges. This I find ridiculous. The evidence against Pemberton is overwhelming.

If I were the head of the defense team, I will keep my mouth shut. The court has already given the defense panel something that they should be thankful for – a homicide verdict instead of murder.

The somewhat “watered down” court ruling on the Pemberton homicide case is not going to be controversial compared to a possible legal and diplomatic tussle between the Philippine and the United States over the custody of the convicted killer.

Officials from both governments should handle this controversial issue with caution or tact so as not to ruin the good diplomatic relations both countries have nurtured through the years.

The custody issue was raised last year following the arrest of Pemberton. US embassy officials at that time gave assurances that it will work closely with the Philippine government to ensure that justice is served. However they said that the rights of Pemberton should also be protected.

Embassy officials has a history of coddling American military personnel accused of crimes in the Philippines. Most often than not, these abusive American military personnel evade jail term.

In 2005, an American serviceman, identified as Daniel Smith, was arrested for raping a woman inside a passenger van at the Subic Bay Freeport Complex.

After a year of trial, the Makati Regional Trial Court found Smith guilty of rape, sentencing him to 40 years in jail. However, Smith was confined in the US embassy despite a judge order that the American rapist be confined in a Philippine jail.

Smith’s conviction, for unknown reasons, was overturned by three female justices of the  Court of Appeals. The female justices claimed in their joint resolutions that after going over all the evidence presented on record, they find it hard to believe about the moral certainty of the guilt of the accused.

I hope the outcome of the Pemberton case will turn out to be much different from the Smith rape if only to render justice to the family of the slain transgender.

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