President Rodrigo Duterte defended his decision to grant absolute pardon to American soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton, saying in a televised speech last night that the convict was not treated fairly in the Philippines.
Pemberton’s pardon was first announced by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. in a tweet yesterday, a week after an Olongapo City court ordered the early release of the Marine who was convicted for the 2014 killing of Filipino transgender Jennifer Laude. The court said that Pemberton, who has served only five years and eight months of his 10-year conviction, has displayed stellar behavior while in prison, making him eligible for early release based on the controversial Republic Act No. 10592, or the Good Conduct Time Allowance law.
However, the lawyer for the Laude family has said that he could not benefit from the law, and the Bureau of Corrections put Pemberton’s release papers on hold.
Duterte insisted that there was no way to prove that Pemberton misbehaved while staying at Camp Aguinaldo in Quezon City, which makes it hard for the government to accurately compute the number of days that should be deducted from his term.
“The problem with this, who can say that when he was detained, he was misbehaving inside [the camp]? That he was shouting or he destroys things? Nothing. There is no list [of his misdeeds]. There is no list because there is really nothing, so it is not the fault of Pemberton that we weren’t able to compute, because we should allow him the good character presumption,” the president said in English and Filipino.
The chief executive, who had publicly criticized the United States government in connection with the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), said that if Pemberton misbehaved, his guards should have reported this to the Department of Justice or the Philippine National Police. After consulting with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Duterte decided to grant absolute pardon to the former Marine.
“I am not favoring anybody. Neither Pemberton nor the family [of the victim]… It’s my decision. Correct me if I’m wrong, but here’s what I think of the case. You have not treated Pemberton fairly. So I released him. Pardon,” he said, without identifying who mistreated the soldier.
He said, however, that he has no qualms locking behind bars those involved in the illegal drug trade. Thousands of Filipino drug suspects, many of whom were impoverished, have been killed in the president’s bloody drug war.
“I will be happy to imprison those crazy ones, those a**holes. But you know, if there is a time where you are called upon to be fair, be fair. Now, you might say, ‘Duerte, are you being fair to drug lords?’ Ah, [I will] be cruel, be cruel. You sons of b*tches, you ruin the country,” he said.
Meanwhile, Pemberton’s lawyer Rowena Flores said in an interview today with cable channel ANC that she did not know why Duterte granted pardon to her client. She also said she was unaware if there was any agreement made between the Philippine and U.S. governments and if “anybody filed an application for pardon” on Pemberton’s behalf.
Once Pemberton receives clearance from the Bureau of Immigration and the National Bureau of Investigation, the 25-year-old convict could be released by Friday, Flores said.
Pemberton paid the Laude family in civil damages just last month for only PHP4.6 million (US$94,785). He has yet to apologize to the family for killing Laude.
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 transgender. He insisted that he acted out of self-defense and that he felt like “being raped by another man” when he discovered that Laude had a penis.
Pemberton went to 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 VFA, which allowed the U.S. to maintain jurisdiction over American service members 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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