A United States marine convicted for the murder of a trans-woman received a pardon from Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte on September 7, Monday, ending his prison sentence. The pardon was granted to Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was serving a prison sentence of 10 years for the murder of Jennifer Laude in 2014. The decision to commute Pemberton’s sentence has provoked strong criticism from the opposition, who has accused the preisndet of giving in to US interests.
Pemberton was sentenced to a term in jail of up to six to 12 years after a local court held him guilty of a lesser charge of homicide in December 2015. His maximum sentence was reduced to 10 years by an appeals court in 2016. In all this while, Pemberton was never jailed but only put in confinement at a custodial center of the Philippines Armed Forces’ headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo.
Laude’s murder had provoked major protests from trans-rights activists and left-wing groups across the Philippines, and was condemned as a transphobic attack. Activists have criticized the courts for not deeming the murder as transphobic, despite evidence that Pemberton’s actions was provoked by his realization that Laude was a transgender person.
The treatment of Pemberton by successive governments and the courts has also been a major point of contention as he was put up in a restricted facility at the behest of the US. Opposition groups and the underground Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) have criticized the US administration for not relinquishing Pemberton’s custody.
Opposition leaders have pointed out that the US military personnel posted in the Philippines often receive privileged treatment when they break local laws. The murder committed by Pemberton and the subsequent trials also provoked scrutiny of the Visiting Forces Agreement between the two nations, which gives special protections to US soldiers in the Philippines.
After passing the pardon, Duterte defended his decision in a televised address, saying that his critics “have not treated Pemberton fairly.” Senator Risa Hontiveros called out the president’s hypocrisy by saying that Duterte’s administration has instituted far harsher punishments for Filipinos charged with lesser crimes, while US soldiers are accorded the benefit of doubt.
“While Filipinos who are convicted even of lesser crimes are never accorded such a privilege, an American who brutally killed a Filipina is allowed to walk free by the President himself,” Hontiveros said. Human rights group Karapatan also released a statement calling the pardon a “despicable and shameless mockery of justice and servility to U.S. imperialist interests.”
The Laude family condemned the pardon through their legal representative Virginia Lacsa Suarez. “This is another injustice not only to Jennifer Laude and family but a grave injustice to the Filipino people,” Suarez said in a statement. She added that the pardon is “another hallmark of Philippine’s subservience to the US.” Meanwhile, protests erupted over Twitter as the hashtag #JusticeForJenniferLaude became a top trend in the Philippines and globally.