POSTSCRIPT / September 15, 2020 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Most fitting closure to Pemberton case

THE message “May he find peace of mind” floated above the cacophony that sent off US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton who was deported Sunday after serving time for killing transgender Jennifer Laude in 2014 in a hotel room in Olongapo City.

A fitting closure to the case that had roiled relations with the US, the message came from lawyer Virginia Suarez representing the Laude family. She added: “Hoping he has learned from all these the value of life and dignity regardless of gender and nationality.”

The absolute pardon granted by President Duterte appears to have added nothing to the time basis of Pemberton’s release from prison and his departure for home as a free man at 9:14 a.m. Sunday on a special US military plane.

It turned out that the President’s absolute pardon granted Sept. 7 to wipe away the penalty for the crime of homicide was superfluous.

A week earlier, on Sept. 1, the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court’s Branch 74 already decided that Pemberton had served a total jail time of 10 years, one month, and 10 days that qualified him for release.

His accumulated time served consisted of (a) over five years and 10 months in prison and (b) credit for good conduct time allowance (GCTA) of 1,548 days or more than four years.

“Thus he is now entitled to be released for he had already served the 10-year maximum of his penalty,” said Presiding Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde in her order releasing Pemberton. The Court of Appeals had sentenced him up to 12 years in prison, but this was reduced to a maximum of 10 years.

The absolute pardon extinguished the crime and its penalties, as if it was not committed, but it did not change the status of Pemberton the offender. Being a convict, he is categorized as an undesirable alien, and on that basis he was deported after serving his sentence.

The pardon was a happy pabaon (departure gift) for US Ambassador Sung Y. Kim, who made last Monday a farewell call on the President before his transfer to Jakarta. He was surprised to hear the good news from Duterte himself. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who was present and through whom paperwork for clemency normally passes, also said he was surprised.

What surprised us was the awkward attempt by presidential spokesman Harry Roque to connect the pardon to the Philippines’ getting an allocation of anti-COVID vaccines being developed in the US. Roque was once the counsel of the Laude family in the Pemberton case.

 PHL rejects US ban on China islet-builders

ON ANOTHER subject, Roque announced Malacañang’s rejection of the US blacklisting of Chinese firms that have built artificial military outposts on reefs and islets in Philippine waters without a formal agreement.

In a media briefing, Duterte’s spokesman explained that in line with its independent foreign policy the Philippines is closing its eyes to China’s intrusions in its exclusive economic zone as long as that tolerance brings economic benefits.

Roque did not explain how the country’s foreign policy can be deemed independent if it depends on Chinese aid and investments to pursue its infrastructure program while tolerating foreign military buildup in its sovereign territory without prior consent.

Manila’s dilemma arose after the US government blacklisted Chinese firms involved in building military outposts in the South China Sea, including parts of the West Philippine Sea, that threaten free navigation and the tranquility of the neighborhood.

On the list announced by the US state and commerce departments are 24 Chinese firms, some of which do business or have construction projects in the Philippines. If the US ban were followed, Malacañang would have to terminate their contracts.

But the Duterte administration, according to Roque, will disregard the US blacklist. He explained that the Philippines has an independent foreign policy.

He elaborated: “The President declared last night that the Americans can enforce the blacklisting of Chinese companies within their territories in the United States and areas where they maintain military bases which are under their jurisdiction.

“The President is clear, he will not side with the directive of the Americans because we are a free and independent country and we need investors from China.

“So, Sangley and all other projects, no matter which Chinese contractor they are, all will proceed because we are looking at our national interest to ensure that the flagship projects under ‘Build, Build, Build’ would materialize.”

The Sangley project mentioned is the airport being built in Cavite under a joint venture of China Communication Construction Co. Ltd. (banned by the US) and the local Macro-Asia led by taipan Lucio Tan. Sangley juts out into Manila Bay west of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

Roque’s statement contrasts with the stance taken by Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. who said last week that he would strongly recommend the termination of government contracts with Chinese companies responsible for the military buildup in the West Philippine Sea.

Locsin, whose view of world affairs runs deeper and wider, occasionally expresses opinions not aligned with those of Malacañang. He has also been firing off diplomatic protests on Chinese intrusions into Philippine waters and the harassment of Filipino fishermen by China’s coast guard.

Chinese Ambassador Huang Xilian, meanwhile, said China is against the sanctions imposed by the US state and commerce departments on some Chinese companies and citizens.

“China is firmly opposed to this,” Huang said. “The participation of Chinese companies and individuals in domestic construction activities is legitimate, lawful and beyond reproach, lies entirely within its sovereignty.

“The move by the US side, under the pretext of protecting the South China Sea, grossly interferes in China’s internal affairs and aims to drive a wedge between China and regional countries.”

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 15, 2020)

* * *

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