MANILA: The Philippines on Sunday deported a US marine convicted for the 2014 killing of a Filipino transgender woman.
Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton walked away a free man six days after President Rodrigo Duterte granted him an absolute pardon.
“Mr. Pemberton wishes to express his deepest gratitude to President Duterte for granting him an absolute pardon. He is extremely grateful for this act of compassion. To the family of Ms. Jennifer Laude, he extends his most sincere sympathy for the pain he caused,” Pemberton’s lawyer, Rowena Garcia-Flores, said on Sunday.
She added that in the years that Pemberton was in confinement, he spent “much time contemplating the many errors in his ways regarding the night of Oct. 11, 2014” and that he “wishes he had the words to express the depth of his sorrow and regret.”
Laude family’s counsel, Atty. Virgie Suarez, wished Pemberton “peace of mind.”
“May he find peace of mind. Hoping he has learned from all these the value of life and dignity regardless of gender and nationality,” Suarez said in a statement.
However, she said that the Laude family still felt “betrayed by the president,” and “frustrated” that their former counsel, Harry Roque, who is now the presidential spokesperson, “actually sided and supported the decision of the administration.”
After leaving his detention cell at the country’s main military camp where he had been incarcerated, Laude was escorted to the airport by immigration agents along with US military and embassy personnel, amid tight security measures on Sunday.
At 9:14 a.m., Pemberton boarded an American military aircraft, which will take him back to the US. He will not be able to return to the Philippines.
“As a consequence of the deportation order against him, Pemberton has been placed under the bureau’s blacklist, perpetually banning him from coming back,” Immigration Commissioner Jaime Morente told reporters on Sunday.
He added that the US serviceman had been blacklisted since Sept. 2015 after being declared an “undesirable alien” over the killing of Jennifer Laude, for which he was eventually convicted of homicide and given a jail term of six to 12 years. His sentence was later reduced to 10 years.
On Sept. 1, however, the Olongapo regional trial court said that Pemberton was eligible for an early release due to his “good behavior in prison.”
And as Laude’s family contested the RTC order for his early release, Duterte, on Sept. 7, announced his decision to pardon him completely.
The US Embassy said that all legal proceedings in Pemberton’s case took place under Philippine jurisdiction and law, and that he has “fulfilled his sentence as ordered by the county’s courts.”
In a radio interview on Sunday, Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete denied claims by the Laude family and critics of the administration that Pemberton had been given “special treatment by the government,” thanks to the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), a military pact between the US and the Philippines.
He stressed that as per the VFA, the treatment extended to American service members in the country who are covered by the agreement is also accorded to Philippine military personnel in the US.
Meanwhile, Department of National Defense (DND) spokesperson, Arsenio Andolong, told reporters that although there have been no joint US-Philippines military exercises due to the COVID-19 pandemic, they had engaged their American counterparts in “frank discussions regarding future incidents involving visiting military personnel.”
“Both sides are now more circumspect and, as a result, stricter guidelines will be crafted and implemented in the conduct of joint exercises, if there will be any and if the termination of the VFA remains suspended,” he said.
Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) spokesperson, Marine Maj. Gen. Edgard Arevalo, said that the incident involving Pemberton was an “isolated case” and “does not embody the totality or the intent of training” between Filipino and American forces, or the militaries of other countries.
“In every iteration of the training . . . There are comprehensive briefings on laws, customs and cultural sensitivities for visiting service members. Exactly the same way that similar lectures are given to our troops who will visit or sojourn in other countries for education and training,” Arevalo said.
“But there could be one or two from among the many training participants who deviate from the established norms and desired conduct,” he said. “The lesson that the recent incident tells everyone is that no one is above the law — and that for any misconduct or transgressions they will be punished accordingly.”
Before being convicted for homicide, 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 was one of thousands of US troops participating 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 had choked Laude after learning that she was also a “man.”