In just four days, the Palace went from calling a local court’s decision to free United States…
On Sept. 7, President Rodrigo Duterte granted absolute pardon to United States marine Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was convicted of homicide and sentenced to six to 10 years in prison for killing Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014.
Here are four things you need to know about the case:
1. What is an absolute pardon?
The 1987 Constitution empowers the president to pardon prisoners “after conviction by final judgment.” (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Five things you should know about presidential pardons)
It is an “act of grace” from the chief executive who “absolv[es] the person for the punishment prescribed” for the crime committed, as defined by the Department of Justice (DOJ) in a 2003 report.
There are two types of presidential pardon: conditional, granted to those who have served at least half of the minimum original sentence; and, absolute, for those who have already served their maximum sentence, been discharged, and received court termination of probation.
Once a convicted person is given absolute pardon, the person’s criminal liability is totally extinguished “without any condition,” thus restoring in full one’s civil and political rights, according to a primer of the Parole and Probation Administration (PPA), an attached agency of DOJ.
“Pardon implies guilt...It does not wash out the moral stain. It involves forgiveness and not forgetfulness.”
Sources: Lawphil.net and Chan Robles Virtual Law Library, G.R. No. 78239
To be qualified for an absolute pardon, one must:
- have already served one’s maximum sentence, been granted final release and discharge, or given court termination of probation; or,
- be 65 years old and above, and have served at least five years of one’s sentence or whose continued imprisonment is “inimical to their health,” as recommended by health authorities.
The application of a convicted person who fails to meet the first criterion may also be considered if one is seeking an appointive or elective public position, in need of medical treatment abroad that is not available locally, poised to take any government examination, or emigrating, according to a service manual provided by DOJ and PPA.
Apart from these, the Board of Pardons and Parole, tasked to review all pardon applications, lists down at least 13 documentary requirements, including clearances from the police, National Bureau of Investigation, and courts in the area where the petitioner resides, and a notice or comment from the offended party, to process an application.
However, Justice Undersecretary Markk Perete, in a Sept. 8 interview on ABS-CBN Teleradyo, said Pemberton need not go through the usual procedure as Duterte, “based on his appreciation of the facts and the arguments,” had already granted pardon to the American serviceman even without an application.
Perete said the procedure in place for “usual” pardon applications does not restrict the president from granting such executive clemency.
2. What is Pemberton's case about?
In December 2015, the American soldier was found guilty of homicide for killing Laude by dunking her head in the toilet bowl of the motel room. During the court trials, he admitted to strangling Laude before dragging her to the bathroom after learning she was a transgender woman during the course of sex.
Pemberton was initially sentenced by the Olongapo City Regional Trial Court Branch 74 to six to 12 years of imprisonment, but this was eventually reduced to 10 years. He was also ordered to pay the Laude family P4.65 million in civil, moral, and exemplary damages, and other expenses.
Since he was covered under the Visiting Forces Agreement between the Philippines and the U.S., Pemberton spent his entire sentence in solitary confinement at a special military facility in Camp Aguinaldo. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: The Visiting Forces Agreement, explained)
On June 2, he withdrew his final appeal before the SC because he had already “accept[ed] and recognize[d]” that his conviction was “final and executory,” according to a resolution of the SC Third Division that was disclosed to the media only in late August.
The court ruled that the soldier’s supposed good conduct time allowance credits -- a sentence reduction provision under Philippine law for prisoners who display good behavior -- showed he had already served 10 years, one month, and 10 days in prison. (See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Understanding good conduct time allowance for prisoners: 4 things you should know)
The judicial process was halted when Duterte granted Pemberton absolute pardon less than a week after the Olongapo court issued its order. The president’s decision was a turnaround from the Palace’s earlier position. (See VERA FILES FACT CHECK: Malacañang does about-face on releasing convicted US marine Pemberton)
3. What comes after the pardon?
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra later clarified over DZMM that Pemberton will remain in detention at Camp Aguinaldo, but that his custody will be turned over by BuCor to Immigration officers for deportation.
Immigration chief Jaime Morente on Sept. 9 said Pemberton will be deported immediately once he is released and turned over to his agency from BuCor. Morente said Pemberton has a standing deportation order for being an "undesirable alien” that was issued by BI’s board of commissioners on Sept. 16, 2015.
4. How has the Laude camp responded?
In a statement posted on Facebook on Sept. 7, lawyer Virginia Suarez, counsel for the Laude family, speaking on behalf of her clients, “strongly denounce[d]” Duterte’s decision, calling it “a mockery of our judiciary and legal system [and] a travesty of Phil[ippine] sovereignty and democracy.”
She said Laude’s case “reflects the systematic discrimination and violence inflicted by [the] U.S. to Filipino women, children[,] and LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer) community.”
In an interview on ABS-CBN Teleradyo the following day, Suarez lambasted Duterte for siding with Pemberton, saying there will be "more Jennifer Laudes" as long as foreign interests will be put first.
Lawyer Romel Bagares, a member of the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) and also counsel for the Laude family, disputed the president’s claim that Pemberton was not treated fairly, saying the American marine was “actually given...special privileges” in the Philippines under the VFA.
On absolute pardon
Definition of absolute pardon
- Official Gazette of the Philippines, 1987 Constitution, Art. VII, Sec. 19
- Department of Justice, Year 2003 Accomplishment Report
- Parole and Probation Administration, FAQ on Parole/Executive Clemency
- Parole and Probation Administration, Mandate/Mission/Vision
- Department of Justice, Agencies: Parole and Probation Administration
- Lawphil.net, G.R. 78239: Monsanto v. Factoran Jr.
- Chan Robles Virtual Law Library, G.R. 78239: Monsanto v. Factoran Jr.
Process and qualifications of absolute pardon
- Parole and Probation Administration, Primer on Probation, Parole and Executive Clemency
- Board of Pardons and Parole, Board Resolution No. OT-04-15-2020: Interim Rules on Parole and Executive Clemency, Retrieved on Sept. 9, 2020
- Parole and Probation Administration, DOJ-PPA Service Manual (Updated 2016)
- Official Gazette of the Philippines, Executive Order No. 292 [BOOK IV/Title III/Chapter 6-Board of Pardons and Parole], July 25, 1987
- Board of Pardons and Parole, Updated Citizen’s Charter, Retrieved on Sept. 9, 2020
- ABS-CBN News, Pemberton pardon within Duterte's prerogative under Constitution: justice official, Sept. 8, 2020
On Pemberton’s case
Conviction of Pemberton
- ABS-CBN News, Pemberton found guilty of homicide, Dec. 1, 2015
- Rappler.com, Pemberton guilty of homicide, Dec. 1, 2015
- Philstar.com, Pemberton found guilty of homicide for killing Jennifer Laude, Dec. 1, 2015
Pemberton admitted choking Laude
- Inquirer.net, Pemberton admits he choked Laude | Global News, Aug. 25, 2015
- Rappler.com, Pemberton admits strangling Laude 'in self defense' – lawyer, Aug. 24, 2015
- Philstar.com, Pemberton admits strangling, killing Laude | Philstar.com, Aug. 24, 2015
Pemberton’s sentence reduced
- Inquirer.net, Olongapo RTC reduces Pemberton prison sentence to 10 years, April 4, 2016
- Rappler.com, Pemberton sentence reduced, April 4, 2016
- CNN Philippines, Court affirms Pemberton's conviction but reduces sentence to up to 10 years, April 3, 2016
Official Gazette, Agreement Between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the Government of the United States of America Regarding the Treatment of United States Armed Forces Visiting the Philippines, February 10, 1998 | GOVPH
Pemberton withdraws SC petition
- GMA News, Pemberton withdraws appeal at Supreme Court; case now closed and terminated, Aug. 24, 2020
- PTV, Pemberton withdraws SC petition, accepts conviction, Aug. 24, 2020
- Inquirer.net, Pemberton withdraws appeal at SC to review conviction, Aug. 22, 2020
Pemberton granted early release
- Rappler.com, As Filipino convicts wait for freedom via GCTA, US soldier Pemberton to walk free, Sept. 2, 2020
- PTV, Court orders early release of Pemberton, Sept. 2, 2020
- CNN Philippines, Court orders Pemberton’s early release on ‘good conduct’, Sept. 2, 2020
Laude camp appealed Pemberton’s early release
- Philstar.com, Pemberton's lawyer seeks dismissal of Laude family appeal on court's early release order, Sept. 4, 2020
- Manila Bulletin, Laude family lawyer insists court shouldn't have issued release order for Pemberton, Sept. 7, 2020
- Washingont Post, U.S. Marine who killed transgender woman in Philippines is granted early release, Sept. 3, 2020
- CNN Philippines, Laude family appeals court decision to free PembertonSept. 2, 2020
Presidential Communications Operations Office, President Duterte on Pemberton's pardon: I'm not favoring anybody, Sept. 8, 2020
RTVMalacanang, Press Briefing by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque, Jr. 9/3/2020, Sept. 3, 2020
On what’s next after the pardon
ABS-CBN News, Pemberton hopes to go back to school after Duterte pardon: lawyer | Headstart, Sept. 8, 2020
BuCor releases Pemberton
- PhilStar.com, BuCor signs Pemberton release papers, Sept. 11, 2020
- ABS-CBN News, BuCor signs release order for convicted killer Pemberton, Sept. 11, 2020
- PTV, BuCor signs Pemberton's release order, Sept. 11, 2020
Pemberton to remain in Camp Aguinaldo
- Rappler.com, Pemberton Update.., Sept. 11, 2020
- PhilStar.com, Pemberton to remain in military compound while BI takes over custody for deportation processing, Sept. 11, 2020
- ABS-CBN News reporter Mike Navallo, Justice Sec Menardo Guevarra tells Teleradyo US Marine Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton will be turned over to custody of Immigration..., Sept. 11, 2020
BI to deport Pemberton immediately
- CNN Philippines, Pemberton to be deported after release from detention, Sept. 9, 2020
- GMA News, Immigration to deport Pemberton after release from prison, Sept. 9, 2020
- Inquirer.net, Immigration to implement deportation order against Pemberton, Sept. 9, 2020
BuCor started processing Pemberton’s release
- GMA News, BuCor now processing Pemberton release, spox says, Sept. 10, 2020
- Manila Bulletin, BuCor starts processing of Pemberton's release – Manila Bulletin, Sept. 10, 2020
- Inquirer.net, BuCor commences release process for Pemberton, Sept. 10, 2020
GMA News, Dobol B Sa News TV Livestream: September 8, 2020 | Replay, Sept. 8, 2020
BuCor updated Pemberton’s records
- ABS-CBN News, Malacañang yet to submit pardon documents for Pemberton release: BuCor, Sept. 9, 2020
- CNN Philippines, LOOK: Mugshot of US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton.., Sept, 9, 2020
- Inquirer.net, BuCor updates Pemberton records, takes latest mugshot, fingerprints, Sept. 9, 2020
On the Laude camp’s response
Laude’s lawyer Atty. Virginia Suarez official Facebook account, This is revolting!, Sept. 7, 2020
ABS-CBN News, Duterte can’t fight foreign power, Laude camp says after Pemberton pardon | TeleRadyo, Sept. 8, 2020
ABS-CBN News Channel, The camp of slain transgender woman Jennifer Laude rejected President Duterte's claim, Sept. 8, 2020
(Guided by the code of principles of the International Fact-Checking Network at Poynter, VERA Files tracks the false claims, flip-flops, misleading statements of public officials and figures, and debunks them with factual evidence. Find out more about this initiative and our methodology.)