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Philippines President Duterte gives clemency to US marine over transgender killing

Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has attracted criticism from rights organizations after offering clemency to a US marine convicted for a murder of transgender woman. The Presidential pardon was issued on Monday to Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton who was serving a sentence since 2014 for killing Jennifer Laude. Lawyer Virginia Suarez who is providing legal assistance to the family of the victim described the condoning of the Marine’s sentence as a mockery of the Philippines’ judicial system. Pemberton has served just over half of his 10-year-prison term.

The former US marine was sparred of the punishment and granted early release by a local court on the account of god behavior last week but the ruling was held pending an appeal by lawyers representing Laude’s family case. The legal battle ended with the issuance of Presidential order that denied appellants their fair chance and right of a fair trial.

“The President has erased the remaining punishment against Pemberton,” announced Harry Roque, Mr. Duterte’s spokesman. “He can now go home because of the pardon.” The release date of the American has not been announced as of yet.

The pair first met in a bar in Olongapo in Oct 2014 while Pemberton was on leave after participating in joint US-Philippines military exercises. According to police investigations the duo checked into a hotel, where she was found dead the next day, flumping over the toilet, apparently killed by a stranglehold. The marine confessed during trial that he had attacked Laude after knowing she was transgender but claimed the victim was still alive when he left the place. Laude’s family and Suarez rejected the commuting of the sentence by Duterte.

Duterte pardons US marine
US marine, Joseph Scott Pemberton

“This is another injustice, not only to Jennifer Laude and family but a grave injustice to the Philippines people. This is a travesty of Philippines sovereignty and democracy, said Suarez. The decision was also deplored and protested by LGBTQ groups.

Mr. Duterte’s decision sent a loud and clear message that a Filipino trans woman’s life does not matter”, said UP Babaylan, a local rights group outraged by the decision. #JusticeForJenniferLaude became a top trend of Twitter on Monday. Filipino human rights activist Chel Diokno analyzed the decision an “affront to Jennifer Laude and her family” and a “big step backward for justice in this case and in our country”.

The murder case has contributed to the more stress on already fragile ties between US and its former colony Philippines where the former enjoys a significant military presence. Under the defense agreement between the two nations, the marine remained in the custody of US military during his trial and imprisonment in a military base used by United States. Some see the verdict and president’s order as a decision to appease US.

“For as long as the US maintains hegemony over our military, economy, and politics, there will be no justice for Jennifer and for the Filipino LGBTQ+, said Bahaghari, another Philippines-based LGBT rights group. Harry Roque who was a lawyer of the Laude family before becoming Duterte’s spokesman, had earlier criticized court’s ruling to wave of the marine’s sentence and in a statement issued through his twitter account said Laude’s death “personifies the death of Philippines sovereignty”.