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Sunday, December 21, 2014

Enraged Laude Family Insists Transfer of Detention

Heavily guarded by American soldiers, United States Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton faced the court, here, for the first time yesterday and drew contempt from relatives of Filipino transgender Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude, whom he is accused of murdering last October 11. “Gusto ko siyang dikdikin (I wanted to crush him),” Laude’s sister Michelle told reporters after the booking procedure, as her elder sister Marilou flashed her cell phone with a photograph she took of Pemberton inside the courtroom.
It was the first time Pemberton faced the court and his accusers since being tagged as a suspect in the murder of the 26-year-old Laude, found lifeless and bruised inside a motel comfort room in this city with his face rested into the toilet bowl.
Lawyers for the Laude family insisted they will not stop until the US Marine is transferred into a regular jail while facing trial.
As Pemberton’s convoy arrived at the Olongapo City Justice Hall, he was whisked into the courtroom by six US soldiers and subject to booking procedure, which entailed a medical examination, a profile shoot, and taking of his fingerprints.
No arraignment was made yesterday as the legal panel of Pemberton filed a motion to suspend the proceedings before the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court (RTC), which set the hearing for the said motion on December 22.
As such, Pemberton was returned to his detention facility at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, frustrating the Laude’s camp who had been insisting that he be detained at a jail in this city under the jurisdiction of the court.
Michelle Laude said she had mixed emotions upon seeing Pemberton for the first time and had wanted to take off her shoe and hit him with it.
Marilou, the eldest of the Laude siblings, was also fuming with anger, but said she somewhat felt relieved that, at the moment, the wheels of justice are working.
She said she all she wants is to see Pemberton tried for the death of her brother.
But at one point, Marilou said she saw Pemberton smiling, but when he noticed she was staring at him, “He quickly looked away from me and never smiled again.”
“I wanted to come close to him to ask him why he killed my sibling, to smash his head on the wall, but there were too many (guards) around him,” she added.  

Members of the press were barred from the court proceedings but some court clerks who had the chance to see Pemberton giggled as they told media that Pemberton was “good-looking.”
A police officer providing security at the courtroom stated in Filipino that Pemberton was “well-groomed.”
Dressed in gray, Pemberton was not allowed to be seen much less interviewed by media. His vehicle was heavily tinted. His only photograph was taken by Laude’s sister Marilou.
The high-profile suspect’s arrival in Olongapo City, temporarily unsettled local authorities with Senior Superintendent Pedrito de los Reyes, the city police chief, mobilizing 100 of his officers to secure the perimeter of the court.
They were joined by firemen on standby for crowd control or any untoward incident as the killing of Laude has raised emotions among activists in the community.
The high-profile case has inflamed anti-US feelings and strained diplomatic relations between the longtime allies.
After the proceedings, Pemberton’s convoy of vehicles with diplomatic plates traveled back to Quezon City, arriving at the Joint US Military Assistance Group (JUSMAG) compound inside Camp Aguinaldo at 1:13 p.m.
At about 1:33 p.m., Pemberton, still wearing his gray suit, was seen being escorted back into an air-conditioned freight container, which serves as his detention cell.
The US Embassy has already rejected a request by the Philippine government to take custody of Pemberton, citing a provision in the Visiting Forces Agreement between the countries that gives Americans custodial rights over a U.S. service member facing charges while judicial proceedings are ongoing.
In a statement in Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the U.S. government will cooperate with the Philippine government, but that under the agreement “the United States is retaining the suspect until completion of all judicial proceedings.”
However the Philippine government has repeatedly demanded for Pemberton to be handed over, and expressed “disappointment” at the US decision.
Laude family lawyer Harry Roque criticized the detention arrangement, likening it to special treatment for the American suspect.
He said he has asked the court to order Pemberton’s transfer to a regular jail.
Laude family lawyer Virgie Suarez said she expects the judge to soon rule on where he should be detained.
“He (Pemberton) was not on official duty and he committed the crime in Olongapo, so he should be detained here in Olongapo,” she told reporters. 

Malacanang said the arraignment of Pemberton is part of the implementation of Philippine government’s jurisdiction on the Laude criminal case.
“Natunghayan ngayong umaga ang pagharap ng akusado sa Olongapo City Regional Trial Court (This morning, the accused faced the court for his arraignment in the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court),” Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO) Secretary Herminio Coloma, Jr. said.
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