(Updated: 10:10 a.m.) President Rodrigo Duterte granted absolute pardon to the United States Marine who killed a Filipino transwoman in 2014 ahead of the appeal to his supposed early release.
In 2015, Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton was convicted of homicide for killing Jennifer Laude in 2014.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. made the announcement on Pemberton suddenly being cleared of charges on Twitter on Monday, September 7.
“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,” Locsin said.
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 was supposed to serve six to 12 years in prison at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, and then later reduced to 10.
Last week, on September 1, the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court granted full credits of Good Conduct Time Allowance to Pemberton and issued an order to the Bureau of Corrections to release him.
Aside from GCTA, the court reasoned that he had already served nearly six years, including the time between his arrest and conviction, and he had already paid P4.6 million in civil damages to the Laude family.
However, the Department of Justice is set to file a motion of reconsideration against Pemberton’s early release.
Shift in tone of former Laude lawyer
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque later confirmed Duterte’s pardon to Pemberton and noted that the chief executed is not required to give a reason for it.
Roque was also the private prosecutor for the Laude family during the trial six years ago.
“What do you mean by absolute pardon? Ibig sabihin makalalaya na si Pemberton. Wala na pong issue kung siya ba ay entitled sa GCTA. Binura na po ng presidente ang kung ano ang parusa na dapat ipapataw kay Pemberton,” Roque said.
“Hindi na po kinakailangan bigyan ng dahilan ng president iyan, dahil ang pag-grant ng pardon at parole, hindi po iyan katungkulan ng hudikatura, kundi katungkulan ng ehekutibo, iyan po ay one of the most presidential of all presidential powers,” he added.
This tone differed from what Roque said last week on Twitter when he condemned Pemberton’s shortened sentence.
“As former private prosecutor for the Laude family, I deplore the short period of imprisonment meted on Pemberton who killed a Filipino under the most gruesome manner. Laude’s death personifies the death of Philippine sovereignty,” he said.
In 2014, Roque even faced disbarment risk for deemed unprofessional conduct in leading a march to the gate of the Mutual Defense Board-Security Engagement Board inside Camp Aguinaldo where US Marine Private First Class Joseph Scott Pemberton was then detained.
Roque’s name appeared among the top trends on Twitter in the Philippines alongside calls for justice for Laude.
Critics voiced their disappointment with Roque for his shift in views since he joined the Duterte administration.
Why Harry Roque, Why? pic.twitter.com/0yOFiTKrtj
— Post Box (@sum_quadratum) September 7, 2020
Please note that Atty. Harry Roque represented Jennifer Laude's family in the case against Pemberton. He also insisted that the Trans Panic defense does not and should not have a precedent in the case.
Let that fucking sink in as you read this. https://t.co/QFM3BgmBrs
— Roxy @ MOBAGE EVENTS HELL (@proxie_error) September 7, 2020
HARRY ROQUE STOOD UP FOR JENNIFER LAUDE AT NAGING LAWYER PA SIYA NG LAUDE FAMILY DURING THE TRIAL TAPOS PUTANGINA KA ACCESSORY KA DIN SA PAGLAYA NGAYON NI PEMBERTON.
— 'man #JusticeForJenniferLaude (@luisemmanueI) September 7, 2020
Justice for Jennifer Laude
Calls for Laude’s justice via the hashtags #JusticeforJenniferLaude and #JunkVFA were filled with posts against Pemberton’s release.
So far, the main hashtag has more than 27,000 tweets on Twitter.
Several influencers on the micro-blogging platform also joined in the online protest.
— gaya sa pelikula stan (@kakiep83) September 7, 2020
Shuta kayo. Isang malaking sampal sa Trans community yung desisyon na nilabas niyo. Pakshet talaga!
Hustisya para kay Jennifer Laude!
— Macoy Dubs (@macoydubs1) September 7, 2020
Dr. Gideon Lasco, also a columnist, perceived that this proved Duterte’s lack of principles.
“With his pardon of convicted murderer Scott Pemberton, Rodrigo Duterte once again proves that he has no real principles, no sense of justice, no moral compass, and no limit to the depths he’s willing to descend to, dragging the nation with him,” Lasco said.
“My heart aches for Jennifer Laude and for all the trans women that are victims of multiple hate crimes in this country. The justice system has failed them once again,” another user wrote.
Lawyer Virgie Suarez, the Laude family lawyer, likewise slammed the pardon and argued that DOJ’s plan to stop his release is no longer needed.
“We condemned the statement of Duterte giving absolute pardon to Pemberton na isang sundalong Amerikano na gumawa ng karumal-dumal na krimen, sa isang transwoman na tulad ni Jennifer Laude,” Suarez said.
Editor’s Note: The latest update corrects a paragraph in this report claiming that the Department of Justice has filed a motion for reconsideration to oppose Pemberton’s early release. The department is set to file the motion next week.