No date was immediately announced for Pemberton’s release.
The 2014 killing of Laude drew widespread attention, particularly on the long-standing alliance between the Philippines and its former colonizer, the United States.
Pemberton met Laude at an Olongapo bar in October after the Marines arrived for joint military exercises. She was later found dead in a motel room, her head over the toilet. Local media reported that Pemberton, then 19, admitted choking the 26-year-old Laude after discovering she was transgender. He claimed he acted in self-defense, but Laude’s supporters and a police investigation identified his actions as a hate crime.
He was sentenced to 10 years in prison, but last week a court ordered his release for good behavior four years early. That decision was then appealed, and he remained in prison.
The pardon was first announced on Twitter by Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr., and later confirmed by presidential spokesman Harry Roque.
Roque was a former lawyer for the Laude family and just last week had denounced the court decision. But on Monday, he told the press that the president “does not need to give a reason” for his decision, “because granting pardon and parole is not a function of the judiciary, but of the executive.”
In a televised address on Monday evening, Duterte argued that Pemberton should be released because there were no reports that he had behaved badly while incarcerated.
“We should allow him the good character presumption,” he said.
He added that he had informed Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra of his decision. “I said … ‘You have not treated Pemberton fairly,’” said Duterte. “‘So I will release him.’”
Pemberton’s lawyer Rowena Flores told CNN Philippines that she was surprised by the news. “I’ve very happy with this development, and I thank the president,” she said.
The Laude family lawyer Virgie Suarez called the development “revolting” and “a mockery of our judiciary and legal system.” She previously said that there was no proof of Pemberton’s reformed moral character, such as a committee evaluation or documentation of exemplary deeds.
“There are too many Filipino convicts, already in their twilight years serving their sentence,” Suarez said. “Why give it [the pardon] to a foreigner, a U.S. soldier who committed an atrocious crime?”
“There is so much disrespect in the manner in which Jennifer was killed, reflective of the disrespect the U.S. has for the Philippines’ democracy and sovereignty,” she added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs and U.S. Embassy did not immediately respond to questions on whether the pardon had been requested by the U.S. government.
Pemberton did not spend his sentence in one of the Philippines’ notoriously overcrowded penitentiaries, but in solitary confinement in a military facility in Manila. The arrangement owed to the Visiting Forces Agreement, a bilateral accord that governs procedures involving U.S. military personnel in the Philippines.
Duterte, who has shifted his country’s foreign policy away from the West and toward China, previously announced he would terminate the Visiting Forces Agreement, but he suspended that plan in June. Human rights advocates see the pardon as bending to interests of United States.
“For as long as the U.S. maintains hegemony over our military, economy, and politics, there will be no #JusticeForJennifer and for the Filipino LGBTQ+,” tweeted Bahaghari, a left-leaning organization advocating for the LGBTQ community.