MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to pardon a US marine convicted of killing a Filipina transgender woman proves that his administration sides with power, Vice President Leni Robredo said Tuesday.
Thousands of Filipinos are jailed because they can't afford a lawyer, while poverty and hunger stalk their families. In contrast, US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton "had lawyers, special detention facilities, a quick, public trial, and an appeal," said Robredo.
"Ngayon, lalong luminaw na mayroon din siyang resources para masigurong mabibigyang-pansin ng mismong Pangulo ang kaso niya, the Vice President said in a statement.
(Now, it has become clearer that he also has resources to ensure that his case will get the attention of the President himself.)
"Isa lang ang kasong ito sa maraming patunay ng pagkiling sa makapangyarihan na nakikita natin mula sa pamahalaan. Napakaraming mga Pilipino na mas magaan ang sala, ngunit hindi nabibigyang-pansin o nabibigyan ng ganitong uri ng pribilehiyo. Ang nakikita natin: Kapag mahirap, may parusa; kapag mayaman at nasa poder, malaya," Robredo said.
(This case is just another proof of government's favor for those who are powerful. There are many Filipinos whose cases are lighter, but do not get attention or this kind of privilege. What we see is that those who are poor are punished; those who are wealthy and in power are free.)
Pemberton was first detained while on trial and then imprisoned following his December 2015 conviction for the October 2014 killing of Jennifer Laude, whom he met at a bar while on a break from military exercises in the northern city of Olongapo.
He admitted to choking Laude after finding out she had male genitals following an intimate act. Her body was found in an Olongapo City hotel, head slumped in a toilet bowl.
A local court ruled last week that Pemberton qualified for early release due to good behavior, but was still being held due to an appeal. He has been held at a facility inside the Philippine military headquarters in Camp Aguinaldo, instead of regular prison, per the Philippine-US Visiting Forces Agreement.
Duterte's pardon clears all legal obstacles to the soldier's release, despite him serving just over half his 10-year sentence.
Pemberton's lawyer Rowena Flores said she did not apply for the pardon.
The President, a former prosecutor, said in a televised speech that it was his personal decision to pardon Pemberton after learning about his case in the news. Duterte said officials had not accurately measured the jail time served by Pemberton under a law that rewards good behavior with shorter terms.
"You have not treated Pemberton fairly. So I will release him (through) pardon," he said after meeting his cabinet, including the justice minister.
Robredo hopes "that the President exercises his vast powers in a manner that is fair and that benefits the common Filipino," she said.
The pardon has renewed anti-American sentiment in the Philippines, where groups have long called for the removal of US military presence.
Renato Reyes, leader of the leftist group Bayan, criticized the president's remarks and condemned Pemberton's "special treatment."
"If Filipinos want pardon... they need to undergo a long process. The American soldier that killed a Filipino was given an express lane," he tweeted.
The pardon came despite Duterte shifting away from the US to seek closer relations with China since assuming power in 2016.
-- With a report from Agence France-Presse