Philippine court to hear appeal against early release of U.S. Marine convicted of killing transgender woman

MANILA, Sept 3- A U.S. Marine convicted of killing a transgender woman in the Philippines nearly six years ago will remain in prison while the victim’s lawyer seeks to overturn a court ruling granting him an early release, a presidential spokesman said on Thursday. The court’s release order has revived old tensions over the role of U.S. military in the country, with…

MANILA, Sept 3 (Reuters) – A U.S. Marine convicted of

killing a transgender woman in the Philippines nearly six years

ago will remain in prison while the victim’s lawyer seeks to

overturn a court ruling granting him an early release, a

presidential spokesman said on Thursday.

On Wednesday, the Olongapo trial court has ordered thefreeing of Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton, sent to prisonin 2015 for killing Jennifer Laude, saying he was eligible forearly release from a six- to 10-year sentence under thegovernment’s good behaviour programme.

Harry Roque, a spokesman for President Rodrigo Duterte whoserved as lawyer in the prosecution of Pemberton, told a mediabriefing Philippine prison officials will not process hisrelease until the local court decides on an appeal filed by thevictim’s lawyer questioning the early release on Wednesday.

The court’s release order has revived old tensions over therole of U.S. military in the country, with Roque joining humanrights activists in slamming the decision.

Pemberton has so far served less than six years after beingconvicted of killing Laude in a hotel in Olongapo in 2014,outside a former U.S. navy base northwest of the capital. Thekilling stirred heated debate in the country over the U.S.military presence in its former colony.

Pemberton has been detained at a military jail.

Roque said on Wednesday “Laude’s death personifies the deathof Philippine sovereignty”, adding “despite the President’sindependent foreign policy, Americans continue to have thestatus of conquering colonials in our country.”

Human rights activists on Thursday slammed what they called”a travesty of justice” after the court ruling.

“We feel this decision indicates that there is doublestandard of justice in the Philippines,” Cristina Palabay,Secretary General of human rights group Karapatan, told Reuters.”This goes to show how favoured still U.S. interests are in thecountry.”

The U.S. military formerly had two huge military bases inthe Philippines but was evicted from them in 1992 before the twocountries revived close ties from 2000 with war games, frequentdiplomatic visits and cooperation against communist and Musliminsurgents.

But the relationship has soured under Duterte, who says theU.S. military presence makes his country a target for conflict,especially if tensions escalate between the Washington andBeijing in the South China Sea.

(Reporting by Karen Lema and Neil Jerome Morales; Editing byKenneth Maxwell)

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