PHILIPPINE President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, September 7, granted absolute pardon to U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton who was serving time in the country after killing transgender Filipina Jennifer Laude in 2014.
Pemberton was convicted of homicide on December 1, 2015 for the murder of Laude. He was sentenced to six to 10 years imprisonment.
Duterte said that it was unfair to keep Pemberton detained, pointing out that it was not Pemberton’s fault that his good conduct time allowance (GCTA) was not recorded.
“You have not treated Pemberton fairly. So, i-release ko. Pardon. Eh ang pardon, walang mga question ‘yan (So, I’ll release him. Pardon. There are no questions there),” the president said during his televised public address on Monday.
He added, “It is not the fault of Pemberton na hindi na na-compute because we should allow him, the good character presumption kasi wala namang nagreport na Marines na nagsabi na nagwawala siya (It is not the fault of Pemberton that his good conduct was not computed because we should allow him, the good character presumption of good character since the Marines did not report anything about him acting out).”
The Olongapo City Regional Trial Court on Sept. 1 ordered Pemberton’s release, saying that the convicted American serviceman has completed the minimum of his sentence after serving a total of 2,142 days or over five years and eight months in prison as well as accumulating GCTA of 1,548 days or more than four years.
The order was signed by Presiding Judge Roline Ginez-Jabalde. However, Pemberton’s release was put on hold by the Bureau of Corrections (Bucor) following the motion for reconsideration filed by Laude’s family.
Duterte said he informed Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra about his decision before announcing it.
“So sabi ko kay Justice Secretary, Medialdea, pinatawag ko sila kanina, sabi ko it’s my decision to pardon. Correct me if I’m wrong but ito ang tingin ko sa kaso (So I told Justice Secretary, Medialdea, I called them over and said it’s my decision to pardon. Correct me if I’m wrong but this is my opinion about the case). We have not treated Pemberton fairly,” he said.
Duterte also clarified that he isn’t taking any sides.
“I am not favoring anybody — neither Pemberton, nor the family [of Laude],” he stressed.
Pemberton walks free
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said Pemberton may now go home to the U.S. after being granted an absolute pardon.
“Ano ibig sabihin ng absolute pardon? Ibig sabihin na makakalaya na si Pemberton. Wala na pong isyu kung siya entitled sa GCTA, wala na pong isyu kung applicable ang batas dahil hindi siya nakulong sa national penitentiary (What does absolute pardon mean? It means Pemberton can now walk free. There is no more issue if he is entitled to GCTA. There is no more issue if the law is applicable since he was not jailed in the national penitentiary),” he said.
Roque, who once served as the private legal counsel for the Laude family, maintained that Pemberton is still a murderer despite his pardon.
“Binura na po ng Presidente kung ano pa yung parusa na dapat ipapataw kay Pemberton. Ang hindi po nabura ng Presidente yung conviction ni Pemberton, mamatay tao pa rin siya (The president erased any additional punishments that may be given to Pemberton. What the president did not erase was Pemberton’s conviction, he is still a killer),” the spokesman said.
Rowena Flores, Pemberton’s lawyer, said Duterte’s decision to grant Pemberton absolute pardon came as a surprise.
According to her, she didn’t personally apply for any pardon from the president.
“I didn’t know that any was forthcoming or that anybody filed an application for pardon [on] his behalf,” Flores told ANC.
She also thanked Duterte “for applying the law to Pemberton.”
Laude family denounces pardon
The Laude family, on the other hand, condemned the absolute pardon granted to Pemberton.
“On behalf of the Laude family and the entire membership of KILUSAN and KAISA KA, we strongly denounce the ABSOLUTE PARDON given by Duterte,” said Atty. Virginia Lacsa-Suarez, the legal counsel of the Laude family.
“This is another injustice not only to Jennifer Laude and family but a grave injustice to the Filipino people,” she added.
Suarez stressed that Laude’s murder “reflects the systematic discrimination and violence inflicted by the U.S. to Filipino women, children and the LGBTQ community.”
“There is so much disrespect in the manner by which Jennifer was killed — reflective of the disrespect [the] U.S. has for the Philippines’ democracy and sovereignty,” she said.
“The pardon given to Pemberton is a mockery of our judiciary and legal system, too,” she added.
Several groups, senators, and celebrities also joined the Laude family in denouncing the president’s decision.
“Karapatan strongly denounces President Rodrigo Duterte’s granting of absolute pardon to convicted US marine Joseph Scott Pemberton as a despicable and shameless mockery of justice and servility to US imperialist interests,” said human rights group Karapatan.
“By granting absolute pardon to Pemberton, Duterte is mocking the Filipino people, who, through decades, have been violated by U.S. military intervention in the country — with the cold-blooded killing of Jennifer Laude as the latest of such reported crimes,” it added.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, meanwhile, said the decision was “unbelievable.”
“What makes it even more atrocious is that his entitlements and liberty were apparently politically bartered through an onerous and servile military agreement. What cheap price sovereignty and national dignity,” NUPL President Edre Olalia said.
ABS-CBN actress Liza Soberano called out the national government for its concept of “unfairness.”
“So a murder was just released for good conduct. Are we supposed to just forget that he killed Jennifer Laude because he’s done some good? #JusticeForJenniferLaude #TransLivesMatter,” she said in a tweet.
— Liza Soberano (@lizasoberano) September 7, 2020
“Another question, you think this murderer (I’m not even gonna say his name) wasn’t treated fairly but, was it fair that Jennifer Laude was murdered out of hate just because of her sexual orientation? #TransLivesMatter,” the actress added.
LGBT rights advocate Naomi Fontanos likewise called out the government, saying Duterte’s independent foreign policy is all for show.
“This is clear proof that #PresidentDuterte’s independent foreign policy is all for show & that he doesn’t value the lives of #LGBTQIA+ Filipinos in spite of what his supporters claim. A terrible #injustice to #JenniferLaude & her family & entire nation. #JusticeForJenniferLaude,” she said.
Senator Risa Hontiveros lamented that Duterte’s decision was “an unbelievable affront” to the LGBTQ community and the Filipino people.
“While Filipinos who are convicted even of lesser crimes are never accorded such a privilege, an American who brutally killed a Filipina is allowed to walk free by the president himself,” she said.
“This current move also gives the lie to the so-called support of the president for the trans and LGBTQI community,” she added.