Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo drew the ire of some Filipinos over his remark that was perceived to downplay transwoman Jennifer Laude‘s death when he defended President Rodrigo Duterte‘s decision to grant absolute pardon to the US Marine who killed her.
In 2015, US Marine Lance Corporal, Joseph Scott Pemberton was convicted of homicide for killing Laude in October 2014.
The absolute pardon cleared him of all charges and restored his civil rights ahead of his remaining jail sentence.
Calls to bring Laude’s justice and chorus of dissent against the US Marine’s release immediately dominated conversations on Twitter and Facebook.
Panelo’s support to Duterte
In a televised address on September 9, Panelo countered criticisms that Duterte was unfair for granting pardon to Pemberton, citing the good conduct credits he was supposedly entitled to.
“The law says every prisoner is entitled to good conduct. Wala pong sinasabi doon, kapag dayuhan ka hindi ka pwede. Hindi rin po sinasabi doon na pag nakakulong ka mag-isa, hindi ka rin pwede ng good conduct,” Panelo said.
“Pangalawa, hindi nga niya kasalanan na nilagay siya doon eh. Wala nga siyang choice. At pangatlo, wala ngang reklamo sa kaniya,” he added.
Panelo also recalled the pardon the Aquino administration gave to a drug trafficker, whom the former mistook as an American.
He described homicide as a lesser offense to drug trafficking. Video clips of this portion circulated around Twitterverse.
“Si Presidente Aquino may pinardon na Amerikano. At alam mo ‘yung crime niya? Drugs. Oh ‘eto nga homicide lang eh,” Panelo said.
“Alam niyo naman ang drugs, kung papano sinisira nito ang buhay ng isang tao, ang pamilya ng isang lipunan. Alam niyo ba yun?” he added.
“Si Presidente Aquino may pinardon na Amerikano. At alam mo ‘yung crime niya? Drugs. Oh ‘eto nga homicide lang eh.”
— Juan Sergio 🇵🇭 (@jownuss) September 9, 2020
Twitter users slammed Panelo over his “homicide” comparison. Critics stressed that Laude was killed and restoring Pemberton’s freedom did not bring her justice.
“They really don’t care. Killing for them seems a very small offense. And don’t get me started with context that it might be the gravity of homicide vs murder based on our laws. Pinatay parin si Jennifer. Hindi na maibabalik ang buhay nya,” one user wrote.
Getting some facts straight
A Twitter user, meanwhile, called out Panelo saying he got some of the details wrong.
“Homicide LANG?! I-compare ba ang homicide sa marijuana trafficking?! Also, get your facts straight. British si Burton, hindi American Nakulong sya for trafficking 5.6kg ng marijuana. He served 19 years of jail time before his pardon in 2011,” the user said.
In December 2011, former President Benigno Aquino III granted conditional pardon to British national William Robert Burton who was detained over trying to smuggle 5.6 kilograms of illegal drugs in 1992.
Burton was convicted in 1997 and had been in prison until his release.
While the reason was not specified, Burton’s health was reportedly deteriorating.
Given that the pardon was not absolute, some of the conditions were:
- A fine of P20,000.00 as imposed by the Pasay Regional Trial Court
- Declared an “undesirable alien” to the Philippines and never to return to the Philippines
- Voluntary agreement to deportation back to Rufforth, Yorkshire, England where he shall shoulder all expenses incurred
Pemberton, meanwhile, was supposed to serve six to 12 years in prison at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, and then later reduced to 10, therefore cutting short his supposed jail sentence.
His lawyer Rowena Flores earlier stated that she was clueless why Duterte pardoned her client because she did not apply for it.
“I didn’t know that any was forthcoming or that anybody filed an application for pardon in his behalf,” Flores said in an interview with ANC.
Panelo’s reply to Robredo
In the same address, Panelo also slammed Vice President Leni Robredo for her similar view that the chief executive was unjust for letting Pemberton walk free.
In her statement on September 8, Robredo noted the plight of poor Filipinos who were incarcerated with lighter offenses.
“Ang tanong nga natin: Patas at makatarungan ba ang naging desisyong ito? Libo-libo ang nakakulong pa rin dahil walang pambayad sa abugado. Hindi malitis-litis ang kanilang mga kaso. May mga pamilya silang nagugutom, nagkakasakit, at naghihirap,” Robredo said.
[A] Pahayag ni VP Leni Robredo sa Pagbibigay ni Pangulong Duterte ng Absolute Pardon kay US Marine Joseph Scott…
In his counter-argument, Panelo cited that 139 pardons had been granted since the start of the Duterte administration, wherein 135 of these are Filipinos and only four are foreigners, including Pemberton.
He also argued that the current administration went after big personalities involved in illegal drugs and corruption.
“Hindi totoo yung mga sinasabi ni VP Leni,” Panelo said.