Despite no clemency request, Philippines president pardons transgender murderer

Opposition politicians, human rights defenders and representatives of the LGTBI collective expressed their outrage on 8 Sept 2020 at the pardon that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte granted the day before to a US marine who killed a Filipino transgender in 2014.

“This is one of the many cases in which this government stands in favor of the powerful. There are many Filipinos in jail for lesser crimes, but they are not granted that privilege. The poor are always punished while the rich get away with impunity.” said Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo.

Joseph Scott Pemberton, an American soldier who was on a troop visit mission to the Philippines in October 2014, killed Jennifer Laude when they were about to have sex by drowning her in the toilet after realizing that she had male genitalia in a Olongapo motel.

Pemberton, who was 19 years old at the time, was sentenced in 2015 to ten years in prison for murder, of which he has only served five years and eight months in the prison of the Camp Aguinaldo military barracks in Manila, where he has remained alone.

The general malaise in the Philippines over the forgiveness of what the police investigation described as a “hate crime” has intensified when it was learned that Pemberton’s defense had not formally requested clemency, so the pardon has been a unilateral decision by Duterte.

In a televised speech last night, Duterte clarified that he granted pardon to the US Navy corporal because he “did not receive fair treatment” and because the trial, in which he was imposed the maximum possible penalty, “was flawed.”

“I did not know that a pardon was coming or that someone had presented the request,” Pemberton’s lawyer, Rowena Flores, told the media with surprise, who hoped that the marine could return to the US within days.

“President Duterte’s forgiveness sends the message loud and clear that the life of a Filipino transsexual woman does not matter. It opens the door to more discrimination against transsexuals and that more American soldiers can kill with impunity on Philippine soil,” they said in a joint statement about thirty organizations for LGTBIQ+ rights and feminists, who also called a protest in Manila.

Senator Risa Hontiveros – champion of feminist and LGTBIQ+ causes – also expressed her outrage at the “imminent release of an American murderer while the poor are in jail for stealing food.”

“The pardon not only leaves a bitter resentment among Jennifer Laude’s relatives, but also in the LGTBIQ+ community and in all Filipinos who demand justice,” added Hontiveros, one of the few opposition voices that remain in the Senate.

Amnesty International called the pardon “a tragic reminder of the culture of impunity that prevails in the Philippines” and insisted that Laude’s murder was carried out “with blatant disregard for his life and dignity as demonstrated at trial.”

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