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US didn't request pardon for Pemberton, was 'surprised' – Locsin

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr said on Monday, September 7, that the United States did not request President Rodrigo Duterte to pardon US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton.

Locsin confirmed this to GMA News on Monday, saying outgoing US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim was even "surprised" by Duterte's decision to allow the American soldier to walk free. 

Locsin announced earlier on Monday that Duterte had granted absolute pardon to Pemberton, who was convicted of homicide in December 2015 for killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude. 

The foreign affairs chief said, "Cutting matters short over what constitutes time served, and since where he was detained was not in the prisoner’s control – and to do justice – the President has granted an absolute pardon to Pemberton." 

Locsin said paperwork on Pemberton's pardon and forthcoming release would likewise be completed on Monday night, following the President's decision. 

Why it matters

Pemberton's release comes 4 years earlier than the 10-year sentence meted out to him after a high-profile trial over the death of Laude. A local court convicted Pemberton for killing Laude, who he was about to have sex with. 

Upon discovering she had male genitals, Pemberton arm-locked Laude and dunked her head in the toilet bowl in a lodge in Olongapo City.

He was 19 at the time of the killing, while Laude was 26. 

The American soldier was part of a US delegation that joined military exercises with Filipino troops and had been covered by Manila and Washington's decades-old Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA). 

Last February, Duterte terminated the military pact with the US, only to walk back on this decision in June due to shifting geopolitics in the region as well as the coronavirus pandemic. The VFA is still in effect until the end of the year and can be extended for 6 months more after that. 

Pemberton's release came after he was recently granted full credits of Good Conduct Time Allowance (GCTA) under a Philippine law – an issue questioned by the Laude family's lawyers, who argued this was not covered by the two countries' VFA.

The Laude family's lawyers likewise said the US soldier was not covered by the equal protection clause as "there is a substantial difference in treatment between someone under the VFA and an ordinary convict."

The issue of the GCTA's coverage, however, was not a problem for Duterte, who instead pointed out the confusion over how the GTCA would be computed. 

In a televised address on Monday night, Duterte defended his decision to grant Pemberton pardon, saying it was "not fair" to keep the American soldier in prison over the Philippines’ failure to accurately compute his GCTA credits. 

"Correct me if I'm wrong, but ito ang tingin ko sa kaso: You have not treated Pemberton fairly. So ni-release ko. Pardon,” Duterte said, after claiming he favored neither Pemberton nor Laude's family. 

What happens next

Before the abrupt announcement, the Philippine government refused to immediately implement a regional court’s release order of Pemberton, saying a motion for reconsideration filed by Laude's family first had to be resolved.

Last September 2, Laude's family filed for a motion for reconsideration. They insisted to see proof of Pemberton's records on good behavior, given that he was detained at a restricted facility in the military headquarters of Camp Aguinaldo.

Duterte's absolute pardon, which is part of his powers as President, now clears the hurdles blocking Pemberton's release. – Rappler.com

Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers foreign affairs and is the lead reporter on the coronavirus pandemic. She also writes stories on the treatment of women and children. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz. Email her at sofia.tomacruz@rappler.com.

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