Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte pardoned on Monday, Sept. 7 Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, a United States Marine convicted of killing Jennifer Laude, a transgender woman, in 2014, in a move seen by critics as another form of subservience to the U.S.
In a tweet, Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. said Duterte has granted Pemberton “absolute pardon.”
With the presidential pardon, Duterte cleared a legal roadblock for the early release of Pemberton, who was convicted of homicide for killing 26-year-old Laude at a motel in the Philippine city of Olongapo, which is located near a former U.S. Naval base north of Manila.
The Philippine Supreme Court said it closed Pemberton’s case on Monday, August 24, after his petition to withdraw appeal of his conviction was granted.
On Tuesday, Sept. 1, a Philippine lower court said Pemberton can walk free after ruling that he had already served his maximum jail sentence of 10 years due to his Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA), a mechanism that shortens the sentence of the accused due to good behavior.
But the Philippine government refused to implement the court order pending the resolution of a motion reconsideration filed by the Laude family. In a motion heard by the court on Monday, the Laude family argued that there has been no proof of Pemberton’s “good behavior, conduct and participation in any of the rehabilitation activities.” The family also demanded to see Pemberton, who is detained in a restricted special facility set up just for him at a military camp in Metro Manila.
Duterte’s pardon came just months after the Philippines announced it was halting the termination of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) that allows U.S. troops to operate in the Philippines. Critics say Duterte’s decision to pardon Pemberton was an affront to sovereignty and national dignity.
“Duterte grants pardon to Pemberton, ignoring the call for #JusticeForJenniferLaude and reaffirming US subservience (as if the suspension of VFA termination was not proof enough),” activist and journalism professor Danilo Arao wrote on Twitter.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, said the decision is a “brazen and shameless sell-out.”
Human rights lawyer and opposition figure Chel Diokno slammed the privilege granted to Pemberton, an American, while Duterte and his supporters are calling for the reimposition of the death penalty for Filipinos.
“They want death penalty for Filipinos but absolute pardon for Pemberton?” Diokno said. “This pardon is an affront to the suffering of Jennifer Laude and her family, and rewards criminal behavior. This is a big step backward for justice in this case and in our country.”
Duterte’s spokesperson Harry Roque, who once served as a private prosecutor for the Laude family, had the same sentiments following the granting of Pemberton’s early release last week.
“Laude's death personifies the death of Philippine sovereignty and the light penalty imposed on Pemberton proves that despite the President's independent foreign policy, that Americans continue to have the status of conquering colonials in our country,” Roque said in a statement.
But he had a lighter stance on the issue after Duterte himself granted pardon to Pemberton, defending the president’s decision.
“President Duterte has erased the penalty for Pemberton. What President Duterte did not erase is Pemberton’s conviction. He is still a murderer,” he said.