President Rodrigo Duterte pardoned convicted killer Joseph Scott Pemberton to make it easier for the Philippines to procure an American-made COVID-19 vaccine, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, who once worked as Jennifer Laude’s lawyer, declared today.
The once highly-esteemed human rights lawyer said in a virtual briefing that he wasn’t surprised at all with Duterte’s decision, saying that “the president has broader national interests to protect” when he chose to pardon Pemberton, who strangled to death Laude inside an Olongapo City motel room in 2014.
“[D]uring this pandemic, we all know that only four countries are making a [COVID-19] vaccine. We’ve all noticed how the president gives emphasis on acquiring vaccines, so my view of this is, and this is just my personal opinion… the decision to grant Pemberton pardon is part of the president’s desire to, if a vaccine is developed — whether that be in America — that the Philippines will also benefit from it,” Roque explained in English and Filipino.
The spokesman said this despite Duterte volunteering to take part in Russia’s COVID-19 vax trials to vouch for the unapproved drug’s safety, and promising Filipinos first dibs on Sputnik V as early as November this year.
Roque reiterated that the vaccine remained Duterte’s priority, and the president had Filipinos’ best interests at heart when he granted freedom to the United States Marine.
“I know the president’s emphasis is to get a vaccine for Filipinos, and although I stood as a lawyer to the Laude family, if [Pemberton’s pardon] means every Filipino will have access to the vaccine developed by Americans, then I don’t have a problem with that,” the spokesman said.
Roque isn’t the only one who appears not to have a problem with Duterte’s decision. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra admitted a few days ago that he was “taken aback” by Duterte’s decision but chose not to question it because it was “awkward” to do so.
Prior to Duterte’s decision, the Justice Department was in the process of contesting an Olongapo judge’s decision to grant Pemberton an early release because he allegedly displayed stellar behavior while behind bars.
Duterte said the detained Marine — who served nearly six years of his sentence inside Camp Aguinaldo instead of the state penitentiary — was treated unfairly, but did not detail why he came to this conclusion.
Pemberton, an avowed devout Christian, admitted to strangling Laude when he found out that the person he was having sexual relations with was a transwoman. Laude’s badly bruised head was found dunked in a toilet, which many consider an affront to the LGBTQ+ community.
Despite widespread outcry, Bureau of Corrections Director Gerald Bantag has signed Pemberton’s release orders, and the Bureau of Immigration today announced that it will carry out a deportation order that will allow Pemberton to go home to the U.S. on Sept. 16.
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