MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte said Monday he granted absolute pardon to convicted killer US Marine Joseph Scott Pemberton because the foreigner was not given fair treatment.
Duterte pardoned Pemberton, convicted in 2015 for killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude, just days after a local court ruled that the soldier is eligible for early release under a law that shortens jail time due to good conduct.
The President explained that Pemberton should have been presumed to have exhibited good moral character while imprisoned, given that authorities did not report otherwise.
"We should allow him the good character presumption, kasi wala namang nag-report na Marines na nagsabing nagwawala siya," Duterte said in a public address.
(The Marines did not report anything about him acting out.)
"You have not treated Pemberton fairly. So, i-release ko. Pardon. Eh ang pardon, walang mga question 'yan (there are no questions there)," Duterte said, noting that he discussed the matter with Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea and Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra.
"In fairness, tapos na 'yung kwentada. He was recommended to be released. Eh, i-release mo," he said.
(In fairness, the computation has been made... So, you release him.)
Duterte claimed he was not taking sides with his decision.
"I am not favoring anybody--neither Pemberton, nor the family [of Laude]," he said.
Laude was killed by Pemberton on Oct. 11, 2014 at a motel in Olongapo City, north of the capital Manila, after finding out that the former had male genitals after an intimate act. Her body was found wrapped in a bedsheet with her head slumped in the toilet bowl.
A forensic pathologist testified that Laude died of asphyxia.
Pemberton was in the country at the time the crime was committed for a military exercise involving Philippines and U.S. troops.
He was sentenced in December 2015 to 6 to 10 years in prison for homicide, but was declared eligible for early release by an Olongapo court last week.
His release however was put on hold as the Laude family and some government officials, including Duterte's spokesperson Harry Roque who lawyered for the victim's family, said the court decision can still be appealed.
Pemberton has been locked up in a custodial facility inside the Philippine military's main camp in Quezon City.
With the grant of absolute pardon, Pemberton can freely return to the United States as Duterte's decision clears him of criminal liability and restores his civil and political rights.
It also remits penalties that were imposed for the crime he was convicted.
Last week, Roque said allowing the early release of Pemberton sets a "very bad" precedent as it shows the disregard for Filipino life, noting that Laude's death is equivalent to the "symbolic death" of Philippine sovereignty.