(UPDATE) President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday granted "absolute pardon" to a U.S. Marine who was jailed in the Philippines for five years over the killing of a Filipina transgender.
Before the President's decision, Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton secured approval from an Olongapo City court to grant him early release after serving just half his sentence for homicide. Pemberton admitted to killing Filipina Jennifer Laude at a motel in October 2014.
Laude's case tested the criminal jurisdiction provision in the Visting Forces Agreement, which critics said heavily favored U.S. troops. As per the VFA, Pemberton served time at Camp Aguinaldo, instead of an Olongapo City jail cell.
Foreign Affairs Sec. Teddy Locsin Jr. first broke the news on Twitter. The President later explained his decision in his weekly address to the nation.
Cutting matters short over what constitutes time served, and since where he was detained was not in the prisoner’s control—and to do justice—the President has granted an absolute pardon to Pemberton. Here at the Palace.— Teddy Locsin Jr. (@teddyboylocsin) September 7, 2020
Pemberton has been detained in a Philippine military camp since late 2014, pursuant to the Visiting Forces Agreement between Manila and Washington. His detention did not change even after his conviction for the homicide of Jennifer Laude the following year.
The VFA gives the U.S. custody of its servicemen who are accused of violating Philippine laws "if they so request." Because of this, Pemberton was not jailed in Olongapo City, where the crime was committed. He admitted to killing Laude at a motel, whom he accused of not being fortright about her sexuality.
Pemberton applied for good conduct credits, however, his military guards are incapable of computing such points for him, Duterte said.
"Sino magsabi ngayon na noong detinado siya, nagkalat siya sa loob? Wala kasing listahan. Wala naman nakalagay doon, kasi wala talaga," Duterte said. The U.S. serviceman is "not required to make a record of his behavior."
The pardon could not be questioned, he said. "Ito ang tingin ko sa kaso: We have not treated Pemberton fairly."
"It is not the fault of Pemberton na hindi na-compute. We should allow him the good character presumption. Wala naman nagreport na Marines na nagwala siya," he said.
"I am not favoring anybody. Neither Pemberton nor the family. Alam mo, itong gobyerno, may konting ano diyan dapa," he said.
The Laude family's lawyer, Virginia Suarez, called the pardon "revolting" and an injustice to the entire country.
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. The pardon given to Pemberton is a mockery of our judiciary and legal system, too," Suarez said.