Demonstrators display placards to protest against President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to pardon US marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was convicted of killing a transgender woman, during a rally in Manila on Sept. 8. (Photo: AFP)
A Catholic priest has described Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s granting of an absolute pardon to a US marine found guilty of killing a Filipino transgender as unfair and unjust to more deserving inmates.
Duterte pardoned Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, 25, before the marine had completed his jail sentence of 6-10 years for killing Jeffrey “Jennifer” Laude in 2014.
Pemberton, then 19, met Laude, 26, in a nightclub in Subic Bay, a former US naval base in Olonggapo province, north of Manila. Pemberton was in the Philippines as a participant in Philippine-American joint military exercises.
At his trial in 2015, the prosecution presented video footage showing Pemberton and Laude entering a hotel together. A few hours later, Pemberton left the hotel alone while a hotel worker found Laude’s body inside a comfort room with a broken neck.
Laude’s relatives told the press they had been offered 21 million pesos (US$420,000) to drop charges against Pemberton but they never did.
“No amount of money could pay for the years I spent raising my child,” Laude’s mother Julita Cabillan said in an interview.
The court found Pemberton “guilty beyond reasonable doubt” of homicide and jailed him. He was also ordered to pay fines to the Laude family amounting to 4.5 million pesos ($90,000).
Activist groups demanded an explanation from Duterte as to why he granted an absolute pardon after receiving reports Pemberton received special treatment inside jail.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, however, said Duterte had exercised his presidential prerogative under the constitution.
“There is no need for him to give a reason … That [power to grant absolute pardon] is one of the most presidential of all presidential powers, the granting of pardon and parole,” Roque said on national television.
The Church’s Coalition Against Death Penalty condemned Duterte’s move as “unjust” and a mockery of the Philippine justice system.
Jesuit Father Silvino Borres, president of the coalition, said pardoning Pemberton showed he could go free without serving his full sentence in jail.
Father Borres also said that Pemberton’s early release showed that the Philippine justice system was unfair under the present government.
“The court order for early release and then subsequently an absolute pardon by President Duterte is yet another instance of an unfair justice system under this current administration,” said Father Borres in a Sept. 8 statement.
According to Father Borres, Duterte should have considered those who were “more eligible” for pardon than someone who was judged guilty by a court.
“We are hoping he would extend the same benevolence to thousands of other inmates who are more deserving than Pemberton,” he added.
The Coalition Against Death Penalty has also spoken against Duterte’s move to revive the death penalty for illegal drug users, calling it a policy that “brings death rather than life and healing.”