Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo. (File photo)
MANILA – Vice President Leni Robredo is wrong to think that Filipinos do not enjoy the same privileges as foreigners who have committed crimes in the country, a Palace official said on Wednesday.
Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo made this remark after Robredo opposed the decision of President Rodrigo Duterte to grant absolute pardon to US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton.
Pemberton was convicted of homicide on Dec. 1, 2015 for killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014.
“Hindi totoo ‘yung mga sinasabi ni VP Leni (What VP Leni is saying is not true). As usual, mali na naman ‘yung facts niya (she got her facts wrong),” Panelo said in an interview with PTV-4.
He explained that there were more Filipinos than foreigners who received pardon under the President’s term.
“‘Yung mga sinasabi nila na kung Pilipino, kulong, ‘yung dayuhan, hindi. Hindi totoo ‘yan. May mga record na sa ating prisons ay makikita na mula noong maupo si Presidente, 139 ang na-grant ng pardon. Apat ang dayuhan, 135 mga Pilipino. So maling-mali na sila doon (Those who say that Filipinos go to jail while foreigners don’t. That’s not true. Our prisons have records that show that since the President assumed office, there were 139 persons who were granted pardon. Four are foreigners, 135 are Filipinos. So they’re really wrong),” he said.
Panelo also emphasized that several personalities in the illegal drug trade were also detained under Duterte’s leadership.
“Marami nang nakulong na malaking tao. Lalo na ‘yung mayayaman na involved sa droga, public officials pa, mga tinanggal ni Presidente (There are a lot of powerful people who have been detained. Especially the rich involved in the illegal drug trade, public officials, those fired by the President),” he said.
According to Panelo, the President did nothing wrong since the power to grant absolute pardon is stipulated in the 1987 Constitution.
“That’s the prerogative of the President, to extend mercy or pardon to a person in prison who has met the qualifications,” he said.
Despite questions over whether Pemberton is entitled to good conduct time allowance (GCTA), Panelo, citing Duterte, said there was no record of his detention at a restricted facility in Camp Aguinaldo.
He said that since there was no record of misbehavior, the President decided it was only fair to set the American soldier free.
“Sabi ng Presidente, unang-una, ‘yung taong ‘yun nakulong diyan sa Camp Aguinaldo. Wala naman daw nakita siyang reklamo na lumabag siya sa mga regulasyon, na gumamit ng droga, nagdala doon ng mga bawal, pornographic materials, o kaya naman siya ay nagwala doon, nanggulo, wala yun eh, so sabi niya, dapat i-consider natin ‘yun (The President said, first, the years he was in Camp Aguinaldo. There were no reports about violation of regulations, that he used drugs, brought prohibited items, pornographic materials, or was unruly, none of that, so he said, we should also consider that),” he said.
On Monday, Duterte, a former prosecutor, said it was his personal decision to pardon Pemberton after learning that officials had not accurately measured the jail time he served under the GCTA law. His grant of absolute pardon clears all legal obstacles to Pemberton’s release, despite him serving just over half his 10-year sentence.
In a statement, Robredo questioned the fairness of Duterte’s decision, taking note of the disparity in the stature of Pemberton and other Filipinos who cannot afford legal services.
She also expressed hope that the President “exercise his vast powers in a manner that is fair and that benefits the common Filipino.” (PNA)