Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte may have cleared the way for US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton's freedom, but years ago, he appeared to be firmly on the side of his victim's family.
Duterte had even given the Laude family financial support, according to Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who had once been the family's lawyer.
"Yes. Thrice since I became spokesman," Roque told Rappler on Wednesday, September 9, referring to the number of times Duterte handed assistance to the family of slain transgender woman Jennifer Laude.
Roque started speaking for Duterte in late October 2017.
Lawyer Virgie Suarez, the Laude family's current legal counsel, told Rappler she recalls Duterte gave aid to Jennifer's mother Julita back in 2017. She confirmed it was through Roque.
Suarez does not recall the exact amount of the assistance but she said it could have been P100,000 ($2,000). Roque, who still did not give an exact amount, said the aid was "a lot more" than P100,000.
Apart from giving monetary support, Duterte said he was on their side in their campaign to attain justice for Jennifer's murder.
"Duterte gave assistance to Nanay Julita Laude for putting up the fight against an American soldier," Suarez told Rappler.
This only added to the pain of hearing about Duterte's absolute pardon for Pemberton, she added.
From appearing to side with the Laudes, Duterte seemed to have made a 180-degree turn on September 7 when he said it was Pemberton who was treated unfairly by the government.
The President said Pemberton deserves to be released because the absence of a proper accounting of his behavior in a detention facility in Camp Aguinaldo is the fault of the government. With no record of misbehavior, the government should assume good behavior on Pemberton's part, said Duterte, thus qualifying him for Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) credits which would shorten his time in detention.
But in order to "cut matters short" and "do justice," as worded by Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, Duterte decided to just grant absolute pardon for Pemberton.
It's yet another jarring decision by Duterte when contrasted to his assistance and moral support for the Laudes.
The pardon caught even Cabinet members and US Ambassador Sung Kim off-guard. Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told Rappler it appears Duterte made his decision that very day.
It also runs counter to Duterte’s branding of fighting for Filipino victims of crimes perpetuated by old colonial powers. The President has long professed disdain for American soldiers in the Philippines and even ordered the termination of the U.S.- Philippines Visiting Forces Agreement before walking back on it in June. The VFA termination was suspended for 6 months or until December. (TIMELINE: Duterte's threats to terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement)
Pemberton's camp were also surprised, saying they didn’t apply for presidential pardon.
If not for Duterte's pardon, Pemberton would have faced a longer detention period given the motions for reconsideration filed by both the Laude family and the Duterte administration itself, through the Department of Justice.
The Laude camp wanted to question whether or not Pemberton, a US soldier, even qualifies for GCTA credits.
An Olongapo court gave Pemberton a perfect GCTA score, and granted him early release 4 years ahead of his full 10-year sentence over homicide.
But these have become moot because of Duterte's pardon which clears all obstacles to Pemberton attaining freedom.
The killing of Jennifer Laude in 2014 shook the nation and opened up old wounds about the treatment of Filipinos under the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the US.
Pemberton, who was 19 at the time, wanted to have sex with the 26-year-old Laude in a hotel in a red light district north of Metro Manila, but was enraged when he saw Laude had male genitals.
He then overpowered Laude and dunked her head in a toilet bowl of a hotel room. She died of asphyxia by drowning and strangulation. – Rappler.com
Pia Ranada covers the Office of the President and Bangsamoro regional issues for Rappler. While helping out with desk duties, she also watches the environment sector and the local government of Quezon City. For tips or story suggestions, you can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.