Duterte Spokesman: Philippines Pardoned U.S. Marine for Coronavirus Vaccine

In this photo provided by the Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers his State of the Nation Address (SONA) while Senate President Vicente Sotto III, left, and House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano listen at the House of Representative in Metro Manila, Philippines, Monday, July 27, 2020. (Simeon …
Simeon Celi Jr./Malacanang Presidential Photographers Division via AP

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte pardoned a U.S. Marine convicted of murdering a Filipino to help the country’s chances of receiving a future U.S.-made coronavirus vaccine, Duterte’s spokesman claimed Thursday.

Duterte on Monday granted an “absolute pardon” to Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who had served over half of a ten-year prison sentence for the 2014 murder of a transgender Filipino named Jennifer Laude prior to the announcement.

According to Philippine news outlet Coconuts Manila, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque, who once served as Laude’s lawyer, said in a virtual press briefing on Thursday that he was not surprised by Duterte’s decision to pardon the U.S. Marine, as “the president has broader national interests to protect.” Roque explained:

[D]uring this pandemic, we all know that only four countries are making a [Chinese coronavirus] vaccine. We’ve all noticed how the president gives emphasis on acquiring vaccines, so my view of this is, and this is just my personal opinion … the decision to grant Pemberton pardon is part of the president’s desire to, if a vaccine is developed — whether that be in America — that the Philippines will also benefit from it.

Duterte has eagerly pushed for the Philippines to be among the first countries to receive a future coronavirus vaccine, should one become available. Last month, Duterte volunteered to be the first person to receive a coronavirus vaccine currently under development by Russia. The Kremlin prematurely announced that the vaccine was safe for civilian use on August 10, despite the fact that it has yet to clear domestic clinical trials.

“I know the president’s emphasis is to get a vaccine for Filipinos, and although I stood as a lawyer to the Laude family, if [Pemberton’s pardon] means every Filipino will have access to the vaccine developed by Americans, then I don’t have a problem with that,” Roque said.

Pemberton’s pardon on Monday came after years of diplomatic tension between the U.S. and the Philippines over the Laude murder case. The U.S. retained custody of Pemberton throughout his trial and incarceration; as a U.S. Marine, he served his sentence on a U.S. military base rather than in a Philippine prison. This arrangement was allowed under the terms of a defense pact between the U.S. and the Philippines, a former U.S. colony.

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