A U.S. Marine convicted of killing a Filipina transgender will soon walk free after securing "absolute pardon" from President Rodrigo Duterte and government critics said Tuesday this highlighted the divide between the powerful and the marginalized.
Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton will be freed on good conduct credits that jail officials could not verify since he had been detained in a military camp, pursuant to the Visiting Forces Agreement between Manila and Washington. This was not his fault, Duterte said, and to keep him in detention by withholding such credits would be unfair.
"Pemberton had lawyers, special detention facilities, a quick, public trial, and an appeal. Ngayon, lalong luminaw na mayroon din siyang resources para masigurong mabibigyang-pansin ng mismong Pangulo ang kaso niya (Now, it's clear that he has the resources to ensure that the President himself would pay attention to his case)," Vice President Leni Robredo said.
"Napakaraming mga Pilipino na mas magaan ang sala, ngunit hindi nabibigyang-pansin o nabibigyan ng ganitong uri ng pribilehiyo. Ang nakikita natin: kapag mahirap, may parusa; kapag mayaman at nasa poder, malaya (Many Filipinos have less serious offenses but are overlooked or are denied this kind of privilege. What we see here: The poor are punished. The rich and the powerful go free)," she said.
Pemberton admitted to killing Jennifer Laude at an Olongapo City motel in October 2014. He was convicted of homicide after he told the judge that he did the crime out of rage. Laude, he said, did not immediately tell him that she was a transgender.
"There are too many Filipino convicts, already in their twilight years serving their sentence, why give it to a foreigner, a U.S. soldier who committed an atrocious crime?" said Virginia Suarez, the Laude family's lawyer.
Duterte said late Monday that 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 nag-report 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.