U.S. Marine in Trans Killing is Deported, What Does This Say About the VFA?

Pemberton served half his sentence and was released on good conduct.
Photo/s: contributed photo

Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton from the U.S. Marines was deported back to his home country on Sunday after serving five years for the killing of transgender Filipina Jennifer Laude, the Bureau of Immigration said. He had secured "absolute pardon" from President Rodrigo Duterte.

His  plane left NAIA Terminal 3 at around 9 a.m., Immigration spokesperson Dana Sandoval told DZBB radio. The release process started Friday when the Bureau of Corrections handed over custody of Pemberton the Bureau of Immigrations. This simply meant that immigration from then on was in charge of his security.

Pemberton said in court that he was blinded with range when he killed Laude in an Olongapo City motel room in October 2014. Laude, he said, was not upfront that she was transgender. The marine was on "R&R" military speak for a night out or a break from joint war drills with their Filipino counterparts.

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The Visiting Forces Agreement governed Pemberton's stay in the Philippines, alongside thousands others who go in and out of the country every year to simulate combat against terrorists and invaders.

The VFA was the same pact used by the U.S. Embassy in Manila to keep Pemberton detained at a Philippine military camp despite his conviction. The VFA allows it. Had he been an ordinary prisoner, he would have been jailed in Olongapo City where the homicide was committed.

A similar situation played out a decade earlier when another U.S. Marine, Daniel Smith, was kept at the U.S. Embassy while on trial for the rape of a Filipina, identified in court only as Nicole. Smith was convicted but Nicole recanted so the Marine was freed and allowed to return to the U.S.

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"The VFA is concerned only with protecting the American soldiers," one of the Laude family's Lawyers, Virginia Suarez, told reportr.

"All of this, the entire case of Pemberton, should serve a lesson to the entire people and to the government: the VFA does not serve the interest of the Filipino people

Pemberton's case also casts doubts on the computation of prisoners' good credits, Suarez said. "How can you tell that his conduct was good when he doesn't interact with that many people?" Prosecutors initially wanted to charge him with murder, but was downgraded to homicide with a shorter sentence.

Duterte had said that the pardon could not be questioned, "Ito ang tingin ko sa kaso: We have not treated Pemberton fairly." The President said it was not the U.S. Marine's fault if the credits could not be computed because of how he was detained. In a normal prison, jail personel are in charge of good conduct scores, which are absent in a military detention.

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Laude was a breadwinner to her family who called her by her nickname, "Ganda." Born as Jeffrey, Laude is among sex workers whose clients include visiting US soldiers on "R&R." At the time of Laude's killing, R&R times were shortened.

Olongapo and Angeles City north of Manila are traditional playgrounds for US soldiers and expats looking for Filipina girlfriends. The two cities hosted what were once the US's largest military bases in the Pacific: Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base.

At around the same time, a British investment banker in Hong Kong was arrested for killing two Indonesian women and stuffing their bodies in a suitcase. It was later found that Rurik Jutting was a frequent visitor in Angeles City, where he had a Filipina girlfriend.


Since being elected in 2016, President Rodrigo Duterte has tried to steer away from the US ambit to pursue greater economic cooperation with China. In February he formally notified Washington he was axing the VFA effective August, after accusing the US of interference in his internationally condemned narcotics crackdown.

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Manila later put the abrogation on hold "in light of political and other developments in the region", a decision seen as acknowledging China's increasing diplomatic muscularity.

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