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News > The Philippines

Philippines: Duterte Pardons US Marine Who Killed Trans Woman

  • Members of LGBTQ activist groups protest at the Department of Justice in Manila, Philippines against the early release of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, convicted of killing Filipina transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014. September 03, 2020.

    Members of LGBTQ activist groups protest at the Department of Justice in Manila, Philippines against the early release of US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, convicted of killing Filipina transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014. September 03, 2020. | Photo: EFE/EPA/Mark R Cristino

Published 7 September 2020
Opinion

Leftwing human rights group Karapatan immediately denounced the decision as "a despicable and shameless mockery of justice and servility to US imperial interests."

U.S. Marine L/Cpl Joseph Scott Pemberton of New Bedford, Massachusetts, was pardoned Monday by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte after his imprisonment for the 2014 murder of Filipina transgender woman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo city, north-west of Manila. 

Last week, a regional court ordered authorities to release Pemberton for good conduct. Yet, the move was blocked by Laude's family, as well as by a separate appeal from the Department of Justice, according to presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, who once served as a lawyer for the Laude family.   

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The court order served as a reminder that U.S. forces who break Philippine law may receive special treatment under the allies' visiting force agreement (VFA), which legally permits temporary visits by the U.S. military for large-scale combat exercises, the reason for Pemberton's presence there in 2014.

Pemberton met Laude after exercises ended outside Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base;  she was then found dead in the motel room they had checked into after choking her to death upon discovering she was transgender. 

While prosecutors sought more severe charges of murder, Pemberton was ultimately convicted of homicide; the charges downgraded because factors such as cruelty and treachery could not be proven. Although Laude's family insisted Pemberton be held at an ordinary jail, he served his sentence at a compound jointly guarded by Philippine and U.S. security personnel at a major military camp in metropolitan Manila, agreed upon under the VFA. 

The outrage of Pemberton's pardon has led to calls from many in the Philippines to end U.S. military presence in the country, with which Washington has a mutual defense treaty. The Laude family's lawyer, Virgina Suarez, maintains that the law allowing reduced prison terms for good conduct does not apply to Pemberton's case given the numerous special privileges he already enjoys under the VFA. 

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