MANILA: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has been slammed for his “revolting” move to pardon a US marine convicted of killing a Filipino transgender woman.
Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, 25, has been in jail since 2014 for the murder of Jennifer Laude.
However, Duterte’s decision to grant Pemberton an absolute pardon has sparked public anger with a lawyer for Laude’s family describing it as “a mockery of the judicial and legal systems” in the country.
In a statement on Tuesday, attorney Virginia Suarez, said: “On behalf of the Laude family ... we strongly denounce the absolute pardon given by Duterte. This is another injustice not only to Jennifer Laude and family but a grave injustice to the Filipino people.
“This is a travesty of Philippine sovereignty and democracy. This is another hallmark of Philippine’s subservience to the US,” she added.
In an announcement on Monday, Duterte said his move was “fair and did not favor anyone,” adding that Philippine authorities had not treated Pemberton “fairly” when they failed to keep an accurate record of his good conduct and time allowance (GCTA) credits while in detention.
The president pointed out that he consulted with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on the matter.
“I said, ‘it’s my decision to pardon. Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is what I think about the case. You have not treated Pemberton fairly, so I’ll release him. Pardon.’ If it’s pardon, nobody can question that,” Duterte said in his weekly address to the nation.
“I am not favoring anybody — neither Pemberton, nor the family (of Laude), but you know if there is a time where you are called upon to be fair, be fair, be fair,” he added.
Duterte noted that it was not Pemberton’s fault if his GCTA had not been duly recorded and the marine was not required to keep a record of his own and characterize his behavior in prison.
The president’s decision, which contradicts his staunch anti-American stance, came as a surprise and sparked outrage from the victim’s family, various groups, and personalities.
Suarez said: “There are too many Filipino convicts already in their twilight years serving their sentence. Why give it to a foreigner, a US soldier who committed an atrocious crime?
“Pemberton killing Laude reflects the systematic discrimination and violence inflicted by the US to Filipino women, children, and the LGBTQ community.”
The lawyer added that the victim’s sister, Marilou, had been shocked on learning that Pemberton was being pardoned.
“I thought Duterte was our ally; I thought he dislikes America. Why did that happen?” Suarez said, quoting Marilou.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL), called the move a “brazen and shameless sell-out! Unbelievable.”
Cristina Palabay, secretary-general of the human rights group Karapatan, said that Pemberton’s pardon was a “despicable and shameless mockery of justice.”
Vice President Leonor Robredo also questioned whether Duterte’s decision was “fair and just,” pointing out that “there were a lot of Filipinos with lesser crimes but have not been given the same attention by the government.”
Before being convicted for the murder, Pemberton, who was 19 at the time, was an anti-tank missileman assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marine Regiment, 2nd Marine Division, in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; and among thousands of US troops to participate in joint military exercises with the Philippines in 2014.
While on shore leave after the exercises, Pemberton and a group of marines went to a bar in Olongapo City, a former US naval facility, where they met Laude.
Laude was later found dead in a motel room where she and Pemberton had checked in. During the case trial, Pemberton admitted that he choked Laude after learning that she was also a “man.”
In 2015, Pemberton was convicted of homicide and given a jail term of six to 12 years. His sentence was later reduced to 10 years. Last week, the Olongapo Regional Trial Court branch 74 ordered his early release through the GCTA, which was contested by the Laude family.
Pemberton’s lawyer, Rowena Garcia-Flores, said her client had been “very happy” on hearing of his absolute pardon and had expressed his desire to go back to school.
She added that there had been no “political exchange” for Pemberton’s pardon and that they did not expect such a move from the president.
Duterte’s move comes months after the Philippine leader backtracked on a decision to terminate the Philippines-US Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA).