President Rodrigo Duterte pardoned American Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton based on his own judgment, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in an interview today.
Guevarra told cable channel ANC that Duterte informed him of his decision shortly after the Department of Justice filed a petition questioning an Olongapo City court ruling which granted early release to the American soldier.
The Olongapo court said that Pemberton displayed good behavior during the almost six years he has been imprisoned, making him eligible to benefit from the controversial Good Conduct Time Allowance law, which deducts up to 30 days from each month of a prisoner’s term. However, the family of Jennifer Laude, whom Pemberton strangled to death in 2014, questioned the court’s decision, and the soldier’s early release was put on hold by the Bureau of Corrections.
The issue surrounding Pemberton’s early release became moot, however, when Duterte declared early this week that he was going to pardon the 25-year-old serviceman, who has been detained at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City. The chief executive said in a televised briefing that Pemberton deserved to be free because he had been treated unfairly, though Duterte didn’t elaborate on why this was so.
Guevarra said that Duterte gave him the same explanation to rationalize why he was granting the pardon.
“He didn’t explain who prompted him… It appeared to me that it was upon his own volition. He must have been following the issues pertaining to Mr. Pemberton from the newspapers, perhaps from radio and TV. He must have been following this issue and then on his own decided to grant pardon to Pemberton,” Guevarra said.
The secretary admitted that he was “taken aback” by Duterte’s decision, but did not dare to question the president.
“[S]ince he immediately explained why he was deciding to grant absolute pardon to Mr. Pemberton, I found it kind of awkward for me to question his personal judgment after hearing what he said, which I did not find to be objectionable anyway. He had some point,” Guevarra said.
“I thought it was improper for me to question it because that’s really a personal act of grace, a personal act of clemency on his part. That is still an official function [of the president], so to speak. So I just didn’t say anything further since he had already appeared to make up his mind,” he added.
Pemberton’s lawyer, Rowena Flores, also admitted that she was surprised by the presidential pardon, and claimed that she never applied for one on behalf of her client. She also said that she was unaware if a special arrangement had been made between Manila and Washington D.C.
Meanwhile, Guevarra said there was no law that stops Duterte from giving clemency to the Marine even if he didn’t apply for it.
“The President also has some basis in his own mind, in his own judgment as to why he’s deciding to grant pardon to anyone. This is not capricious or [a] whimsical [judgement], granting that [pardon]. The president must also have some basis in his own mind,” the secretary said.
Pemberton, who paid the Laude family only PHP4.6 million (US$94,785) in civil damages, is expected to walk free on Friday.
Laude was found dead in October 2014 in an Olongapo City motel room after seeing Pemberton, who admitted that he strangled her after learning that she was a transgender. However, he insisted that he acted out of self-defense and that he felt like he was “being raped by another man” when he discovered that Laude had a penis.
Pemberton visited Olongapo to participate in military exercises organized by the U.S. and Philippine governments. Activists have decried what they alleged was the preferential treatment given to Pemberton, who, as a soldier, was protected by the Visiting Forces Agreement which allowed the U.S. to maintain jurisdiction over American servicemen stationed in the Philippines. The agreement was supposed to be canceled by the Duterte government, but it announced in June that it was postponing its termination.
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