Philippines deports U.S. Marine pardoned for killing transgender woman
MANILA — A U.S. Marine who was convicted of killing a transgender woman in the Philippines was released and deported from the country Sunday after being pardoned by President Rodrigo Duterte.
Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who served little more than half a 10-year sentence in the 2014 killing of Jennifer Laude, departed the country on a military aircraft. The deportation was arranged by the U.S. Embassy, according to the Philippine Bureau of Immigration.
Pemberton’s lawyer said the Marine had “spent much time contemplating the many errors in his ways” and extended his sympathies to the Laude family. “He wishes he had the words to express the depth of his sorrow and regret,” lawyer Rowena Flores said. She said the U.S. government paid for his flight.
Pemberton’s pardon and release drew outrage from Laude’s family, human rights advocates and the LGBTQ community.
[Philippines’ Duterte pardons U.S. Marine convicted of murdering transgender woman]
Julita Laude, Jennifer’s mother, said she felt betrayed by Duterte. She said the president had promised the family Pemberton would not be freed during his term.
“Ten years in prison is all we are asking. … Ten years!” Julita Laude said in a statement. “It’s a short time to pay in jail for the life of my daughter.”
The immigration bureau said Pemberton is barred from returning to the country.
In this photo provided by the Philippine Bureau of Immigration, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton rides a van as he leaves Camp Aguinaldo on his way to the airport in Quezon City on Sunday.
The killing of Laude drew new scrutiny to the long-standing alliance between the Philippines and its former colonizer, the United States.
Laude’s supporters have pointed out that Pemberton enjoyed special treatment during his confinement before his early release. While other convicts are confined to the country’s notoriously overcrowded prisons, Pemberton served his sentence in a cell in the Philippine military headquarters. The arrangement was made possible by the bilateral Visiting Forces Agreement, which governs procedures involving U.S. military personnel in the country.
A protester holds a photo demanding justice in the 2014 killing of Jennifer Laude during a rally Friday in Quezon City.
Pemberton met Laude at a bar in Olongapo City, north of Manila, in October 2014 after the Marines arrived for joint military exercises. She was later found dead in a motel room, her head over the toilet. Local media reported that Pemberton, then 19, admitted to choking Laude, 26, after discovering she was transgender. He claimed he acted in self-defense, but police determined his actions were a hate crime. He was charged with murder and convicted of homicide in 2015.
In the past month, Pemberton’s lawyers sought his early release for good conduct in detention. The Laude family and the Philippine Department of Justice were set to contest the request. But in a surprise decision, Duterte granted Pemberton absolute pardon on Monday, superseding any court decision.
Protesters gathered in Quezon City on Friday to condemn the pardon. They chanted “Justice for Jennifer!” and “Pardon for Pemberton, a betrayal to the nation!” and displayed posters showing Pemberton and Laude with her head dunked in a toilet.
“I’ve had a good cry … but today is for fighting,” said Naomi Fontanos, executive director of Gender and Development Advocates Filipinas. The nonprofit, led by trans women, is abbreviated to “Ganda,” a Filipino word that means “beauty” and was a nickname of Laude’s.
Duterte’s critics see the pardon as bending to U.S. interests, even as the president has harshly criticized the United States and its leaders. Duterte, who has shifted his foreign policy away from the West and toward China, said he would terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement, but that plan was suspended in June.
Fontanos said Duterte’s anti-American rhetoric was “all for show” and “a ruse.”
“We’ll continue our fight. The road will be long, we know it,” she said. “I hope this will be a wake-up call for how treacherous this president is.”
Duterte’s own cabinet officials were surprised by the pardon. Foreign Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. told reporters the United States did not request it.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, a former lawyer of the Laude family, said Thursday the decision was made for a “higher national interest.”
But political analyst Aries Arugay said it might have been a “knee-jerk reaction.” If it was meant to be strategic, he said, it was “crude and unsophisticated.”
Arugay pointed out that some U.S. politicians, particularly those critical of Duterte’s bloody drug war, would want to distance themselves from cases involving human rights abuses — including the Laude killing and Pemberton’s release.
“From the point of view of a supposed foreign policy of a small sovereign nation, it’s a total mess,” Arugay said. “If Democrats get the White House in November, then our human rights record will be this government’s reckoning.”
Laude family lawyer Virginia Suarez backed calls to end the Visiting Forces Agreement and other military deals between the Philippines and United States. At the Friday rally, she said there was another struggle at stake — “not just for human rights, but for our democracy.”
“As long as there are ‘security’ agreements — which ironically make us insecure … there will be more Pembertons and more Jennifers,” Suarez said.
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