MANILA — The family of slain transgender Jennifer Laude had thought of President Rodrigo Duterte as an “ally”—until he pardoned the US soldier convicted in her killing, their lawyer said Tuesday.
Laude’s sister Marilou was “shocked” when Duterte announced Monday that he would give absolute pardon to American Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, said her lawyer Virginia Suarez.
“She said, ‘Akala ko attorney kakampi namin si Duterte, akala ko ayaw niya sa Amerika. Bakit ganoon?’” Suarez told ANC.
(She said, ‘I thought Duterte was our ally, I thought he dislikes America. Why did that happen?)
The pardon came despite Duterte shifting away from the US to seek closer relations with China since assuming power in 2016.
Suarez said she told the Laude family that Duterte was “never serious” about his tirades against the US.
The President only scrapped a military deal that allowed the presence of America soldiers in the Philippines, after the cancellation of the US visa of Sen. Ronald Dela Rosa, a former police chief who led his anti-narcotics drive, she said.
Duterte has also approved the purchase of $20 billion worth of arms from the US, said the lawyer.
“Sa kabila ng mga rant niya, hindi naman niya binago iyong foreign policy—puro lang salita, but there was never any action. Mas kailangan siguro nating basahin ang mga aksiyon ni Duterte kaysa sa mga sinasabi niya,” Suarez said.
(Despite his rants, he never changed the foreign policy—it was all talk, but there was never any action. Perhaps it’s better if we read into Duterte’s actions, instead of his words.)
“This is really very revolting for me. I was hoping the President could use his inherent power for the interest of the Filipino people, and not for the interest of the foreign,” she added.
Pemberton has been in prison since the October 2014 killing of Laude, whom he met at a bar while on break from military exercises in the northern city of Olongapo.
A local court ruled last week that Pemberton qualified for early release due to good behavior, but was still being held due to an appeal.
Duterte's pardon clears all legal obstacles to the soldier's release, despite him serving just over half his 10-year sentence.
The President, a former prosecutor, said in a televised speech that it was his personal decision to pardon Pemberton after learning about his case in the news.
Duterte said officials had not accurately measured the jail time served by Pemberton under a law that rewards good behavior with shorter terms.
"You have not treated Pemberton fairly. So I will release him (through) pardon," he said after meeting his cabinet, including the justice minister.
The pardon has renewed anti-American sentiment in the Southeast Asian nation, where groups have long called for the removal of US military presence.
Renato Reyes, leader of the leftist group Bayan, criticized the president's remarks and condemned Pemberton's "special treatment."
"If Filipinos want pardon... they need to undergo a long process. The American soldier that killed a Filipino was given an express lane," he tweeted.
— With reports from Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News; Agence France-Presse