President Rodrigo Duterte on 7 September granted “absolute pardon” to United States Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton over his 2014 killing of Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude. This was after the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court’s Branch 74 decided to grant the 25-year-old solider an early release on 1 September due to the good conduct time allowance.
The Court of Appeals’ initial sentence for Pemberton was a maximum of 12 years of imprisonment, which was later reduced to a maximum of 10 years. He would be released four years earlier.
Many LGBTQ+ organizations as well as youth and progressive groups denounce the pardon.
“President Duterte’s claim that Pemberton has suffered injustice when he served time in a special holding cell in Camp Aguinaldo for just five years and 10 months out of a 10-year jail sentence is unacceptable and ludicrous. Pemberton should have served time in the National Bilibid Prison, and the President could have granted presidential pardon to a Filipino instead of an American,” says a group of LGBTQ+ organizations in a unity statement.
“Such acts done by the President at this time confirm 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,” it adds.
The act of compensating is totally unacceptable because no life can ever be replaced by pecuniary recoupment and a short period of incarceration. We strongly express our disapproval and disappointment over the lack of transparency regarding Pemberton’s alleged good conduct and participation in Camp Aguinaldo.
The group is composed of the makers of the documentary Call Her Ganda, LakanBini Advocates Pilipinas, Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas, Pioneer Filipino Transgender Men Movement, Society of Transsexual Women of the Philippines (STRAP), Transman Equality and Awareness Movement (TEAM), Lagablab LGBT Network, Metro Manila Pride, Philippine Anti-Discrimination Alliance of Youth Leaders (PANTAY), University of the Philippines (UP) Babaylan;
Rainbow Rights Philippines, Babaylanes, Inc., Polytechnic University of the Philippines Kasarianlan, Bulacan State University Bahaghari, Benilde Hive, Technological University of the Philippines Dugong Bughaw, Gayon Albay LGBT Organization, True Colors Coalition;
Bicol University Magenta, KAIBA Academic Collective, UP Babaylan Baguio Chapter, Asia-Pacific College Bahaghari, Queer Quezon, GALANG Philippines, Camp Queer, UP Babaylan Clark Chapter, Tribu Duag, LGBTQ+ Partylist, Youth Voices Count, Love Is All We Need, Migrante Europe, Pinay sa Holland and Gabriela Germany.
The statement further says that “the President’s pardon shows that his so-called support for the LGBTQI community is just mere posturing and exposes the truth about Duterte and his legacy—that as a leader, he is nothing but unjust, misogynistic, and transphobic” and “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.”
The network of groups disputes the claim that the administration has the most for the LGBTQ+ community and says that “all he has done is to use the LGBTQI community to further his popularity. His government never served our interests nor protected our rights and lives, and today proves that only a murderer can empathize with another murderer.”
Another unity statement was released by a group of Metro Manila student organizations including several Far Eastern University organizations, Anakbayan chapters, Kabataan Partylist Morayta, Samahan ng Progresibong Kabataan and Paaman sa Tueun-an, on the latest Pemberton issue, “strongly” denouncing the grant of absolute pardon.
“This is a strong disregard for Filipino life, noting that Laude’s death is equivalent to the ‘symbolic death’ of Philippine sovereignty according to the Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, who represented Laude’s family during the trial,” the group says.
“The act of compensating is totally unacceptable because no life can ever be replaced by pecuniary recoupment and a short period of incarceration. We strongly express our disapproval and disappointment over the lack of transparency regarding Pemberton’s alleged good conduct and participation in Camp Aguinaldo,” they further say, urging again the passage of the SOGIE Equality Bill “that aims to further protect the rights and liberty of everyone, whether they belong in the LGBTQIA+ community or not.”
“This is not about placing special rights for a specific minority group, but a gesture that recognizes the equal rights and protection of the LGBTQIA+ community that should have already been in place under the ambit of both national and international laws. This, indeed, will not be protested only if the law and the government are able to grant the justice that the LGBTQIA+ community deserves. Must we let another gruesome death of a fellow member of our community pass by before we act on this urgent matter? We must not and we cannot let our fallen brothers and sisters down. We urge everyone to unite against the injustice, the hate, the discrimination, and the inequality that we face up to this day,” the group emphasizes.
LGBTQ+ group Bahaghari, who marched towards the Mendiola Peace Arch, on 8 September, tells that “it is time that we, the Filipino LGBTQ+, take our place in history, and recognize that there can be no justice for our slain sister for as long as the accomplice to her murderer sits squarely in Malacañang.”
Benilde Hive “recognizes how this decision may harm the community and perpetuate the idea that violence against our brothers and sisters is tolerated in any form.”
On the other hand, the organizers of the Metro Manila Pride stand “firm against this infuriating and blatant act of betrayal in the service of foreign interests, enabling systemic violence to happen to the most vulnerable of us; enabling violence against trans women and the trans community.” They also “ask the entire community, in the face of this betrayal, to remain vigilant, to continue to be vocal, and to find strength in each other as we fight against injustice.”
De La Salle University- College of Saint Benilfde’s LGBTQ+ student group, Benilde Hive, “recognizes how this decision may harm the community and perpetuate the idea that violence against our brothers and sisters is tolerated in any form.”
PANTAY, representing students advocating for equality, says that the act “reveals just how hostile Duterte and his administration is towards the LGBTQ+ community, their rights and interests.”
“It is acts like these that awaken us to the reality that, indeed, in society, LGBTQ+ persons are marginalized and oppressed by a system that seeks to deny them their humanity,” they explain.
Laude, then 26 years old, met Pemberton, who was then 19, a member of the U.S. Marine Corps 2nd Battalion-9th Marines of the West Pacific Express, at the bar Ambyanz Disco in Olongapo City, on 11 October 2014. She was later found dead inside a motel, Celzone Lodge, naked and with her head in the toilet bowl.
Police report said that she died of strangulation. Pemberton said she choked her upon learning that Laude was not biologically female. The Olongapo City Regional Trial Court convicted him of homicide.