Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton was jailed in 2015 for killing Jennifer Laude in Olongapo City.
Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has pardoned a US Marine convicted of killing a transgender woman in the country nearly six years ago, sparking widespread condemnation from opposition leaders and activists who described the move as a “mockery of justice”.
In a televised weekly address to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, Duterte mentioned the full pardon in passing, saying he wanted to “be fair” to Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton.
Pemberton was jailed in 2015 for killing Jennifer Laude near a former US navy base in Olongapo City. He was convicted in 2016 and placed in a special detention facility inside a military camp. A trial court signed off on his early release for good conduct last week, but was blocked by an appeal from Laude’s lawyers.
“You have not treated Pemberton fairly. So I will release him (through) pardon,” Duterte said after meeting his cabinet, including the justice minister, who cleared the president’s decision.
“This is how I see it,” he said. “So release him. Pardon. There is a time you are called to be fair.”
The Presidential pardon of Pemberton is an unbelievable affront to the LGBTQI+ community & to the Filipino people.
Many Filipinos who committed lesser crimes are never afforded this privilege. Isang Amerikanong pumatay sa Pilipina pa ang inuna. #JusticeForJenniferLaude
Duterte said officials had not accurately measured the jail time served by Pemberton under a law that rewards good behaviour with shorter terms.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin added on social media, “Cutting matters short over what constitutes time served, and since where he was detained was not in prisoner’s control – and to do justice – the president has granted an absolute pardon.”
Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said granting a pardon is one of the “most presidential of all presidential powers”, and that no explanation is required as to why the president chose to do so.
Roque has in the past served as the lawyer for Laude’s family and had pushed for Pemberton’s conviction.
‘Rewarding criminal behaviour’
Rommel Bagares, one of Laude’s lawyers, said he was dismayed by the pardon and questioned Duterte’s foreign policy commitments.
“We see the welfare of our countrymen are set aside,” Bagares told DZBB radio.
Chel Diokno, a leading human rights lawyer and former senate candidate for the opposition, contrasted the president’s harsh rhetoric against Filipino offenders with the full pardon for the US serviceman.
“This pardon is an affront to the suffering of Jennifer Laude and her family, and rewards criminal behaviour,” he wrote on social media.
Cristina Palabay of human rights group Karapatan described Dutere’s decision as “despicable and shameless mockery of justice.”
“By granting absolute pardon to Pemberton, Duterte is mocking the Filipino people,” she said in a statement sent to Al Jazeera.
On social media, the hashtag #JusticeForJenniferLaude and #TransLivesMatter became top trending topics in the Philippines.
Since becoming president, Duterte has been known to take a hardline stand against the US, a longtime military ally of the Philippines, engaging in frequent and infamous tirades and threats against it.
However, he has yet to downgrade ties and in June withdrew his decision to scrap a bilateral troop deployment agreement that is central to the defence alliance.
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