On Monday, the President of the Philippines granted "an absolute pardon" to U.S. Lance Cpl. Joseph Scott Pemberton, who was convicted of killing a transgender woman in 2014, CNN reports.
The 25-year-old Marine had already served about six years of his 10-year sentence after killing 26-year-old Jennifer Laude in a motel room in 2014.
At the time of Laude's murder, Pemberton was 19 years old. According to court documents, the two met in a nightclub outside Subic Bay, a former U.S. naval base, when Pemberton was in the Philippines for joint military exercises in 2014.
Surveillance video presented during the trial showed the two entering a hotel together, and Pemberton is later seen exiting the building alone. A hotel worker found Laude dead in the hotel bathroom with a broken neck.
Pemberton admitted to police that he'd choked Laude in a fit of anger upon realizing she had male genitalia. Police say he claimed he'd also tried to revive her after calming down and realizing what he'd done.
President Rodrigo Duterte's decision to pardon the young Marine was announced by Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Locsin Jr. on Monday and later confirmed by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque in a report by the state-run Philippine News Agency (PNA).
His decision followed a court ruling last week allowing Pemberton to receive credit for good conduct during his time served in the Camp Aguinaldo military prison in Quezon City, which totaled to more than four years.
But critics point out that it was easy for Pemberton to maintain good conduct, as he was serving his sentence alone instead of with the general prison population.
In fact, many locals are angered by President Duterte's decision to pardon Pemberton, criticizing the nation's leader for putting politics above justice.
Some believe tensions between the Philippines and China has prompted the Philippine government to turn to the US as a stronger ally, thus motivating the President to make decisions that would curry favor with the US.
Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers, called the pardon "unbelievable."
"What makes it even more atrocious is that his entitlements and liberty were apparently politically bartered through an onerous and servile military agreement. What cheap price sovereignty and national dignity," he said in a statement.
Pemberton's lawyer said he would still need to work in harmony with certain legal requirements before he could leave the country, but she was hopeful that would happen before the end of the week.