Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday pardoned a United States marine jailed for killing a Filipino transgender woman in 2014.
Joseph Pemberton was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2015 for the killing of Jennifer Laude, who was found strangled in a motel bathroom in Olongapo City, 90 kilometres north of Manila, in October 2014.
On Sept. 1, Judge Roline Ginez Jabalde ordered Pemberton’s early release on good behaviour, in spite having served only five years of his prison term in a special detention cell at the Philippine military headquarters.
At that time, Duterte spokesman Harry Roque criticised the judge’s leniency in the case and said the Department of Justice was expected to appeal the order.
The presidential U-turn – from taking a tough line on Pemberton to granting him a pardon – was left unexplained on Monday.
Roque said no explanation was needed because the granting “of pardon and parole is not a function of the judiciary but the executive.”
It’s “one of the most presidential of all presidential powers,” he said.
Roque, who once served as a private lawyer for the Laude family during the trial, said the pardon allows for Pemberton’s immediate release.
“The pardon erases the punishment imposed on Pemberton, but the president did not erase the conviction of Pemberton,” he said. “He is still a killer.”
The left-wing group Bayan (Nation) challenged the basis of Duterte’s pardon: “Why pre-empt the court process?”
“The absolute pardon, and the context and timing of the same, is a betrayal of national interest and a great injustice for the Laude family,” said Renato Reyes, Secretary General of Bayan.
Rowena Garcia Flores, Pemberton’s lawyer, said she was surprised by the pardon.
“I was not expecting it but we are very happy about the pardon,” she told a Manila radio station.
“The president, as a lawyer, probably knows that what we are asking for was within the law.”
At the time of the crime, Pemberton was among thousands of United States forces taking part in regular military training exercises with Filipino soldiers.
He was covered by a visiting forces agreement between the Philippines and the United States that allowed for him to be held in a special cell at the Philippine military’s headquarters in Manila rather than a state penitentiary.
Duterte abrogated the 1999 visiting forces agreement in February, but had suspended the termination in June amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The agreement provides legal cover for the entry of United States troops in the Philippines for joint training exercises with Filipino forces.
Edited By: Fatima Sule/Emmanuel Yashim