September 8, 2020 (7:33 PM)

4 min read

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The grim reality of our justice system and its insufferable bias towards the rich and powerful continue to haunt us each day. And where does this leave the marginalized, the oppressed, and the poor? Yet again, at the perils of injustice.

Amid public outrage over Olongapo City court order for US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton’s early release on the grounds of good conduct, Pres. Rodrigo Duterte granted absolute pardon yesterday for the American, guilty of murdering transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014. This absolute pardon releases Pemberton from his criminal liability and fully restores his civil rights.

Pres. Duterte defended that Pemberton was not treated fairly, considering the “presumption” of his “good character.”

But there is no proof of Pemberton’s “good conduct” – no evidence of his participation in rehabilitation activities under the Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) to prove that his ten-year sentence was finished, no recommendation from the Management Screening and Evaluation Committee.

To quote Laude family’s lawyer Virgie Lacsa-Suarez, “his conduct was never put to test as he has never joined other convicts.” How then could Pemberton have gained good conduct credits when he served solo in his specially-made facility in Camp Aguinaldo?

And if we scrutinized Laude’s case, she was the one treated unfairly. In the first place, her murder was downgraded to homicide – allowing Pemberton to serve a lesser sentence. During the trials, the US soldiers were allowed in court, while the Laude family only had their counsels as the media was barred – an intimidating show of power. The Supreme Court even junked the family’s petition in 2015 to transfer Pemberton from his air-conditioned, US army-surrounded facility to the Olongapo City Jail along with other convicts.

The GCTA is not a right that convicts can invoke – their supposed “good conduct” should be backed by evidence of such. And this begs us to question this law’s morality – is it right to pardon a criminal because they allegedly showed “good behavior” and participated in rehab activities, even if they show no remorse or apology? Is it justified to quantify “good behavior” based on such activities alone?

Subject to debate and prone to abuse, the GCTA favors only those with influence, resources, and power. Little do we know of regular convicts charged with lighter sentences and political prisoners jailed on trumped-up charges who were released early because of good conduct.

Amid continuing discrimination against the LGBTQIA+ community, we can’t help but be skeptic of this admin’s sincerity of being in solidarity with their fight, pardoning a transphobic, bigot foreigner from committing a hate crime. We should also be alarmed of what this implies – that, despite claiming to be accepting of the LGBTQIA+ community, the admin enables oppression and violence to perpetuate against the trans community.

We continue to be enraged for the injustices that the community faces – for how the admin belittles the urgency of passing the Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Expression (SOGIE) Bill, for overlooking their struggles, and for turning a blind eye on discrimination and hate crimes. But the long-standing fight towards acceptance, rights, and a safe space must and will go on.

Also, public officials who claim to be for the LGBTQIA+ community need to speak out against this injustice. We cannot abide with opportunists like Sen. Imee Marcos who, during the elections, claimed to be for the community but turned a blind eye on Laude’s tragedy by applauding the government for serving “justice.”

We must also condemn Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, formerly a part of Laude’s legal counsel and rebuked hate crimes against the community, who now, without the slightest flinch, defended Duterte’s decision to grant absolute pardon to the murderer. How these opportunists get to sleep peacefully at night remains a mystery to us.

While our cry for justice for Jennifer Laude continues, we must stand in solidarity with the LGBTQIA+ community. Our continued fight against discrimination and injustice should also extend to wrongfully charged activists and journalists, the poor who are convicted with heavy, unjustified charges, and the Lumad community stripped off their ancestral lands. Because so long as opportunists sit at the position of power, our hope for a pro-poor justice system will long be a dream.


About Sofia Roena Guan - Tabula Rasa

Sofia writes, sometimes, but prefers crunching numbers. A graduating accountancy student, she believes that there is more to life than becoming a corporate slave. Tabula rasa, her column name, means "a clean slate".



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