Roque guesses that Duterte granted Pemberton pardon in exchange for US vaccine

In another bid to justify President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial grant of absolute pardon to U.S. soldier Joseph Scott Pemberton, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque told the public that the Chief Executive likely did it to secure U.S. COVID-19 vaccine for the Philippines – if that country ever successfully develops one.

"Sa tingin ko naman na itong decision niya, itong personal opinion ko, ang pagbibigay ng pardon kay Pemberton ay kabahagi ng pagnanais ng Presidente na kapag mayroong vaccine na ma-develop, kung sa America man, ay makikinabang din ang Pilipinas," said Roque on Thursday, September 10, during a Malacañang press briefing.

(In my view, in my personal opinion, this grant of a pardon for Pemberton is part of the President's wish for the Philippines to benefit from a vaccine that America might develop.)

Before the press conference, Roque issued a statement saying the President's pardon was "grounded on a broader national interest."

Roque even said he was at peace with Duterte's decision even if Roque himself had called a court ruling to release Pemberton a miscarriage of justice.

If the consolation are vials of a U.S. vaccine reserved for Filipinos, he has no problem with the early freedom of the American soldier, said the spokesman.

"At sa akin po, bagamat tayo po ang tumayong abogado ng pamilyang Laude, eh kung ang ibig sabihin naman niyan ay lahat ng Pilipino ay magkakaroon ng vaccine kung ang Amerika ay maka develop, wala akong problema diyan," said Roque.

(And for me, even if Ie stood as counsel to the Laude family, if this means all Filipinos will have the vaccine that America will develop, I have no problem with that.)

"Our interest is saving lives by having the vaccine to fight this pandemic," said Roque.

But asked if he heard Duterte himself saying the pardon was for the sake of a vaccine, Roque admitted he did not. His remarks were purely his personal belief.

Asked by Rappler why the President didn't give that as his reason for the pardon during his public address last Monday, September 7, Roque said, "I don't know."

Roque's latest remarks come after public outrage over Duterte's absolute pardon for Pemberton, who brutally killed a transgender woman, Jennifer Laude, in 2014, supposedly for failing to tell him she had male genitals before they had sex.

The decision is particularly unpopular among members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ) community who see the pardon as a condonement of violence against transgender people.

Influential celebrities and senators were also enraged.

What Duterte said in public

In that public address, Duterte said he was freeing Pemberton because he believed the soldier was treated unfairly by authorities.

Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr, who spoke to the President right after Duterte made his decision, said the Chief Executive did it to "cut matters short" and "do justice."

Roque said he was able to speak at length with Duterte right after the announcement of the pardon for Pemberton but declined to divulge details of their discussion.

The spokesman further guessed that a presidential pardon for Pemberton may have been mentioned during Duterte's phone call with U.S. President Donald Trump last April. The Palace had said that the conversation focused on efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trump has a longstanding promise to bring home American soldiers who are detained in foreign countries. –

Pia Ranada

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