Philippines President Pardons US Marine Convicted of Killing Transgender Woman

The president of the Philippines on Monday pardoned a U.S. Marine who was convicted of killing a transgender woman.

The Philippine Star newspaper reported prosecutors' attempts to block Lance Cpl. Joseph Pemberton's early release from prison prompted Rodrigo Duterte to pardon him.

Prosecutors contend Pemberton in October 2014 murdered Jennifer Laude in a motel room in Olongapo City on the Philippines' main island of Luzon after he discovered she was trans. The murder took place after Pemberton met Laude at a local nightclub while his ship was docked at the Subic Bay Freeport.

Laude's death sparked outrage among Philippine activists. The case also highlighted opposition to the U.S. military presence in the country

A court on Dec. 1, 2015, sentenced Pemberton to 6-12 years in prison, but he received credit for the time he spent in custody before his trial. A judge in 2016 reduced Pemberton's sentence.

Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) and more than 30 other Philippine LGBTQ advocacy groups on Monday issued a joint statement in which they sharply criticized the pardon.

"We strongly condemn the absolute pardon granted by President Rodrigo Duterte to Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, the U.S. Marine convicted for killing Filipino trans woman Jennifer Laude in Olongapo City in 2014," reads the statement.

The statement criticizes Duterte's human rights record that includes his government's anti-drug crackdown that has left thousands of people dead. The groups also say Pemberton's pardon confirms "how his government has been using the COVID-19 pandemic as an opportunity to promote and kowtow to foreign interests which have caused profound suffering, indignity, and injustice to the Filipino people."

"President Duterte's pardon of Pemberton sends out a loud and clear message that a Filipino trans woman's life does not matter, that it is open season for discrimination and violence against transgender people, and that American soldiers will continue to get away with murder in Philippine soil," reads the statement.

GANDA Executive Director Naomi Fontanos in a separate statement she sent to the Washington Blade described the pardon as "absolutely unacceptable, unconscionable and unforgivable."

"This proves that President Duterte is not a friend or ally of the LGBTQIA+ Filipinos and that he has just been using our community to promote his populist image in spite of the fact that he is misogynistic and homo/bi/transphobic," said Fontanos.

"It is an injustice not only to Jennifer Laude and her family but to the Filipino people," added Fontanos. "This pardon calls into question his understanding of LGBTQIA+ people's needs, issues and concerns and calls into question his assertion that he is not an American lackey much like the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos whom he idolizes."

Dindi Tan — a trans woman and activist who Duterte late last year appointed as the Philippines' Department of Agrarian Reform — also questioned the pardon.

While I cringed at the thought of Pemberton being scotch-free, I am definitely sure there must be a far deeper reason as to why the president decided in this direction," wrote Tan in a Facebook post.

"I am a part of the administration and I am committed to furthering PRRD (President Rodrigo Roa Duterte)'s agenda for the people no matter what," she added. "Like in all relationships, I would like to treat this as a 'heartbreak' that can be mended. And, like in many relationships, this too, shall heal."

The State Department has yet to publicly comment on the pardon.

This article originally appeared in the Washington Blade and is made available in partnership with the National LGBT Media Association.