Members of the women's group Gabriela protest outside a courthouse in Olongapo City on Dec. 1 where U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton was found guilty of homicide. (Photo by Jun Dumaguing)
A Catholic bishop in Manila has joined activist and women's groups in questioning the "special treatment" reportedly being accorded to a U.S. serviceman found guilty of killing a transgender woman last year.
"Why the special consideration?" asked Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo, on the decision of Philippine authorities to detain U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton in a military camp instead of the country's national prison.
On Dec. 1, a court in the city of Olongapo found Pemberton guilty of homicide in the death of transgender woman Jennifer Laude in October 2014. The court ordered that the U.S. serviceman serve six to 12 years in the country's National Bilibid Prisons.
The Philippines' Department of Justice, however, issued an order allowing Pemberton to be detained in a military camp in Manila until his appeal is decided by the courts, supposedly in accordance with an existing U.S.-Philippines military agreement.
"That is the problem with this kind of agreement. It's not fair," Bishop Pabillo said. "Why did we enter into such an agreement? [The U.S. servicemen] are here in the Philippines and they violated the law, so why give them special treatment?" he said.
"If a Filipino committed the same mistake he would be automatically brought to [the national prison]," Bishop Pabillo said.
Opposition congressman Neri Colmenares also expressed dismay over the decision to detain Pemberton at military headquarters. "It is an insult to our justice system and our sovereignty," said Colmenares, senior minority leader of the House of Representatives.
"The refusal of the U.S. troops to surrender Pemberton to Philippine authorities is telling of the state of our sovereignty," he said, adding that the Philippine government must assert its jurisdiction over Pemberton.
U.S. Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton (center) is escorted by Philippine police personnel Dec. 1 after a local court found Pemberton guilty of homicide in connection with the killing of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude. (Photo courtesy of the Armed Forces of the Philippines)
Rep. Carlos Zarate of Nation First Party in Congress warned that existing military agreements between the United States and the Philippines might even allow Pemberton to leave the country.
"No American has been jailed under the Visiting Forces Agreement," said Zarate.
The women's group Gabriela described the conviction of Pemberton as a "limited victory" for the family of Laude and the Filipino people.
The group also underscored the "political weight" of the decision to commit Pemberton to a Philippine penitentiary because it challenges the Visiting Forces Agreement.
"The political battle for justice is far from over. It is now up to the [Philippine] government to stand its ground against U.S. pressure to take custody of Pemberton," Gabriela said in a statement.
Bishop Pabillo expressed hope that the case of Pemberton will not end up like the case of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith who was taken in custody by U.S. authorities even after a Philippine court convicted him of rape in 2005.
The bishops last year said Laude's murder would test the effectiveness of the military agreements between the Philippines and the United States.
The Philippines and the United States signed the enhanced deal in early 2014 allowing a bigger American military presence in the country and the construction of U.S. facilities inside Philippine military camps.