Tue. Sep 22nd, 2020

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US marine who killed Pinoy transgender sent home; lawyer says he was sorry

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THE PHILIPPINES on Sunday deported a US marine convicted in 2015 for killing a Filipino transgender and whom President Rodrigo R. Duterte had pardoned.

Scott Joseph Pemberton was carried by a military plane that left Manila on Sunday morning, Immigration spokeswoman Dana Krizia M. Sandoval said in a Viber group message.

The Immigration bureau had blacklisted Pemberton, perpetually banning him from returning to the Philippines, Immigration Commissioner Jaime H. Morente said in a separate statement.

An Olongapo trial court convicted Pemberton of homicide in a case that had ignited anti-American sentiment in the former US colony. The court sentenced him to six to 10 years in jail.

Pemberton could have faced a life sentence had the judge granted prosecutors’ request for a murder conviction. The court cited mitigating circumstances, saying Mr. Pemberton was drunk and got confused after discovering that the person he had hired for sex was male.

Jeffrey Laude, a 26-year-old male sex worker who identified as a woman, was found strangled in October 2014 in a motel.

Pemberton expressed his “most sincere sympathy” to the family of his victim, his lawyer Rowena Garcia-Flores said on Sunday. “He extends his most sincere sympathy for the pain he caused.”

“In the years he spent in confinement, he spent much time contemplating the many errors in his ways regarding the night of Oct. 11, 2014,” Ms. Flores said. “He wishes he had the words to express the depth of his sorrow and regret.”

Mr. Duterte pardoned the American soldier last week after the victim’s family appealed his release. The President said the ex-convict had been treated unfairly.

The United States Embassy on Sunday said Pemberton’s release had been authorized by the Philippine Justice department.

“All legal proceedings in the case took place under Philippine jurisdiction and law,” it said in a statement. “Lance Corporal Pemberton fulfilled his sentence as ordered by Philippine courts and he departed the Philippines on Sept. 13.”

Pemberton had reportedly paid the victim’s family P4.6 million in damages.

“I told you DoJ would put him through the wringer,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin, Jr. said in a social media post on Sunday.

Mr. Locsin had said his pardon was Mr. Duterte’s own decision, rather than a condition to secure access to US-developed vaccines for the coronavirus disease 2019.

Presidential spokesman Harry L. Roque earlier said Mr. Duterte had pardoned Pemberton so the Philippines could have easy access to COVID-19 vaccines manufactured by the US. Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario S. Vergeire denied this was the case, adding that no such agreements had been made with the US.

But an analyst said the pardon would probably come with “diplomatic packages” that will benefit the Philippines.

“Few foreigners got pardoned and every time a foreigner got pardoned, it came with diplomatic packages,” Marlon M. Villarin, a University of Santo Tomas political science professor, said in a Viber message.

He said Mr. Duterte’s executive act was a “socially infamous decision.” “What is worth watching and waiting for is what comes next after Pemberton got pardoned that is in the interest of both the US and our country.”

The case fueled public clamor for a review of the visiting forces agreement between the two countries in 2014.

The conviction came less than a month after former US President Barack Obama visited Manila and pledged more military aid, as the Philippines under then President Benigno S.C. Aquino III sought US support for its efforts to challenge China’s push to control disputed islets in the South China Sea.

The US had military bases in the Philippines until 1991, when the Philippine Senate ended their leases. In 1999, the Senate ratified an agreement that allowed US authorities to retain custody of soldiers accused of a crime pending trial in a Philippine court.

President Rodrigo R. Duterte in February said he was ending that military deal. His government later delayed the termination of the pact on troop deployment, which he finds to be a distraction to the world’s anti-COVID-19 efforts.

The visiting forces agreement, which allows the US to shield its servicemen from prosecution in the Philippines, has been a thorny issue for Filipino patriots who see it as a lopsided deal. The US has used the VFA at least twice to keep accused soldiers under its jurisdiction. — Vann Marlo M. Villegas, Charmaine A. Tadalan and Gillian M. Cortez

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