MANILA (2nd UPDATE) -- President Rodrigo Duterte has granted absolute pardon to a US Marine convicted for killing a Filipino transgender woman in 2014, officials said Monday.
Duterte granted Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton absolute pardon in Malacañang, said Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who represented the family of the US soldier's victim, Jennifer Laude, during the trial of the case.
"Binura na po ng Presidente kung ano mang parusa ang dapat pang ipapataw kay Pemberton. Ang hindi po nabura ng Presidente, 'yang conviction ni Pemberton. Mamamatay-tao pa rin po siya," Roque said.
(The President erased whatever punishment should be imposed on Pemberton. What was not erased was the conviction. He is still a killer.)
Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin, Jr. initially announced the granting of absolute pardon on Twitter.
"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. Here at the Palace," Locsin said.
The development comes after Pemberton, who was sentenced in December 2015 to 6 to 10 years in prison for homicide over the slay of Laude, has been declared eligible for early release by an Olongapo court.
But his release was put on hold as the family and some government officials said they are appealing the court's release order.
The grant of absolute pardon clears Pemberton of criminal liability and restores his civil and political rights, and remits penalties that were imposed for the crime he was convicted.
With Duterte's decision, Pemberton can now freely go back to the United States, Roque said. He can also come back to the Philippines, if he decides to do so in the future, according to Sen. Panfilo Lacson, with "the extinction of criminal liability and full restoration of" his civil rights.
Justice Sec. Menardo Guevarra said Duterte consulted him before he made the decision to pardon Pemberton.
Guevarra said that as the chief executive, Duterte can exercise his power to grant executive clemency anytime and "under any circumstance."
"Pardon is an act of grace on the part of the chief executive. He may exercise this plenary power of executive clemency at anytime and under any circumstance," Guevarra said in a statement.
The Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (BAYAN or New Patriotic Alliance) questioned the grant of absolute pardon, calling it a "betrayal of national interest and a great injustice for the Laude family."
"So much for claims of having an independent foreign policy. The US government had its way again on this issue," it said.
Roque last week said that 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.
"A feeble conviction. A comfortable detention. And now, absolute pardon from no less than the President of the Republic of the Philippines. It is past time that we, the Filipino LGBTQ+ community, call Duterte what he truly is: a lapdog for the US," said Rey Salinas, spokesperson of the LGBT rights advocate group Bahaghari.
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. A forensic pathologist testified that Laude died of asphyxia.
Pemberton was in the country at the time to participate in the Philippines-US military exercises.
A hotel staff found Laude's body wrapped in a bed sheet, with her head slumped in the toilet bowl.
Pemberton was detained at a custodial facility inside the Philippine military's main camp in Quezon City, based on Manila and Washington's Visiting Forces Agreement.