Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque (File photo)

MANILA – President Rodrigo Duterte may have pardoned US Marine Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton “in pursuit of a higher national interest”, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said on Thursday.

In a virtual presser, Roque said he was not surprised that Pemberton, who killed Filipino transgender woman Jennifer Laude in 2014, was pardoned since Duterte may have a good reason behind it.

“Hindi na po ako nasorpresa, sa totoo lang po. Bakit po? Kasi alam ko po na mayroong mas mataas o mas importanteng national interest na kinakailangang pangalagaan ng Presidente (I wasn’t surprised to be honest. Why? Because I know there may be a greater or more important national interest that the President has to protect),” he said.

Roque used to be lawyer of the Laude family.

He guessed that Duterte granted absolute pardon to Pemberton so the country could get access to the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) vaccines from the US.

“Sa tingin ko naman, itong desisyon nga ni Presidente – ito ay personal na opinyon ko dahil tinanong mo ang aking personal na opinyon ‘no – ang pagbibigay ng pardon kay Pemberton ay kabahagi ng pagnanais ni Presidente na kapag mayroon na ngang vaccine na na-develop kung sa America man ay makikinabang din ang Pilipinas (I think the President’s decision—this is just a personal opinion because you asked for my personal opinion—pardoning Pemberton is part of the President’s desire to get a vaccine from America if they develop one),” he said.

Roque said if Duterte’s decision to pardon Pemberton would mean that all Filipinos would be given a vaccine that the US would develop, “wala po akong problema diyan (I have no problem with that).”

Roque said accepting Duterte’s decision did not mean that Laude’s death was swept under the rug.

Roque said although he would have wanted Pemberton to serve his maximum penalty, Laude’s death was not denied of justice because the American soldier was detained and had to pay the Laude family PHP4.6 million in civil damages.

“Nakamit po ang katarungan. Wala po tayong ibinayad kahit ano (We obtained justice. We didn’t have to pay for anything to get it),” he said.

He reiterated that Laude’s murder is the “symbolic death” of the country’s sovereignty.

He said the President has the constitutional power to grant executive clemency.

“Iyan po ang pinaka-presidential of all presidential functions. So wala pong kahit sinong pupuwedeng magkuwestiyon niyan (That is the most presidential of all presidential functions. So nobody can question it),” he said.

Kim and Trump

Asked if pardoning Pemberton’s pardon was discussed in a phone conversation between Duterte and outgoing US Ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim last Monday, Roque said it may be a possibility.

Duterte and Kim had a phone conversation just before Roque confirmed that the President granted Pemberton absolute pardon.

“Posible po at ang tingin ko hindi lang sa pagpupulong iyan ni Presidente sa dating Ambahador ng Amerika kung hindi iyong kaniyang telephone conversation with President (Donald) Trump (It’s possible and I think that it was not only brought up during the meeting with the former Ambassador but also his telephone conversation with President Trump),” he said without indicating when the phone conversation with Trump took place.

Roque said he was not privy to the details of the phone conversation and asked the public to “trust the wisdom of the President.”

“Tingin ko po, consistent pa rin kaming dalawa ni Presidente na kinakailangan kaibigan ang lahat, walang kalaban na kahit sinuman (I think the President and I are consistent in believing that we should be friend to all and enemy to none),” he said.

He said Duterte’s decision to abrogate the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) remains despite pardoning the American soldier.

“The abrogation has been suspended but the decision has not been changed,” Roque said. (PNA)