MANILA (2nd UPDATE) - The Bureau of Immigration on Friday took custody of US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, with officials expressing doubt that he could be deported before the weekend.
Pemberton, whom President Rodrigo Duterte pardoned for killing a Filipino transgender woman in 2014, was transferred around noon to the custody of the BI from the Bureau of Corrections, said its spokesperson Gabriel Chaclag.
Pemberton must secure a clearance from the National Bureau of Investigation to ensure that he does not have any other cases in the Philippines. He also needs a flight itinerary and travel documents before deportation, said Immigration spokesperson Melvin Mabulac.
“I doubt kung makakaya 'yan today. Pwedeng mangyari 'yan bukas o sa susunod na araw,” he told ABS-CBN's TeleRadyo.
(I doubt if it can be done today. Perhaps that can happen tomorrow or in the next days.)
The deportation includes blacklisting Pemberton, he said.
BI personnel will take over custodial duties at Camp Aguinaldo facility in Quezon City, where Pemberton is detained. His former guards from BuCor will return to the New Bilibid Prisons, Chaclag earlier said.
Pemberton will remain at Camp Aguinaldo until his flight arrangements are completed, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a separate TeleRadyo interview.
He urged media coverage of Pemberton’s release to dispel doubts that he was given special treatment.
The US lance corporal met Laude 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.
Duterte's pardon clears all legal obstacles to the soldier's release, despite him serving just over half his 10-year sentence.
The President, a former prosecutor, said in a televised speech on Monday 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.
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 reports from Bianca Dava and Aleta Nishimori, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse