The Department of Health (DOH) on Friday said the presidential pardon given to US marine convicted of killing a Filipino transgender woman was not a condition to gaining access to a US-developed COVID-19 vaccine.
The Health department statement came a day after presidential spokesman Harry Roque suggested that President Rodrigo Duterte pardoned US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton so that the Philippines would receive a COVID-19 vaccine being developed by American companies.
Pemberton, who strangled Jennifer Laude, a Filipino transgender woman, to death after dunking her head in a toilet bowl in an Olongapo motel in 2014, was convicted of homicide and had served only five years of his six- to 10-year term when a court ruled he could be released early for good conduct.
When the Laude family challenged the ruling, the President abruptly granted Pemberton an absolute pardon, making any further legal moves moot.
“We did not receive this kind of a condition based on the discussions we have had from the [drug] manufacturers from the US,” Health Undersecretary Maria Rosario Vergeire said in a mix of English and Filipino Friday.
Two other Cabinet members cast doubt on Roque’s suggestion of a pardon-for-vaccine deal.
Foreig Secretary Teodoro Locsin denied there was a deal between Manila and Washington for Pemberton’s release.
“I already said it was the President’s unilateral decision. What is it about ‘I already said’ that’s so hard to understand? I was with the President. Just me and Secretary (Menardo) Guevarra and ES (Salvador Medialdea) and Senator Bong Go,” he said in a Twitter post.
“There is no exchange. I clinched that purely on my charm with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. I insisted that it (vaccine procurement) be a private sector venture,” Locsin wrote in an earlier tweet. “It is what it was: the President’s sense of fairness in a particular case. And it’s impeccable law and morals.”
The pardon has been widely criticized, but Duterte said he believed Pemberton was not treated fairly because his good conduct time allowance (GCTA) credits were not recorded by Philippine authorities.
The pardon extinguished the issue of whether or not Pemberton was entitled to GCTA.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra declined to support Roque’s suggestion.
“I cannot speculate on the President’s motives. He has explained his reason for granting pardon to Mr. Pemberton. For me that’s the end of the story. Let’s move on,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters.
Guevarra earlier said Duterte consulted him before making the decision, which reportedly surprised even US Ambassador Sung Kim who went to Malacanang for a farewell visit.
Asked if the pardon was unfair to the Laude family, Guevarra again refused to comment, saying he considered the matter closed.
“My sentiments are irrelevant. I defer to the personal judgment of the President on matters within his constitutional prerogative,” he said.
Pemberton remains detained at Camp Aguinaldo even after he was released from the custody of the Bureau of Corrections. The Bureau of Immigration its completing its deportation proceedings against him.
The BI said Pemberton will remain at the JUSMAG facility inside Camp Aguinaldo until the time he is deported.
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