Lance Corporal Joseph Scott Pemberton was convicted of homicide for the killing of Jennifer Laude in a motel in October 2014, after they met in a bar following joint US-Philippine military exercises near the city of Olongapo.
Judge Roline Jinez Jabalde sentenced Pemberton to six to 12 years in jail — after the charge was reduced from murder which carries a heavier penalty — citing mitigating circumstances, including the fact that Laude had not revealed her gender identity.
The court heard that Pemberton and Laude agreed to have sex after meeting, but that the drunken Marine turned violent when he discovered Laude still had male genitals.
He acted out of “passion and obfuscation”, the court said, adding that “in the heat of passion, he arm-locked the deceased, and dunked his (her) head in the toilet”.
“The killing of Laude amounted only to homicide” and did not have the legal elements of murder, the court ruled.
A lawyer for the Laude family, Harry Roque, expressed outrage that the sentence was reduced on those grounds.
“We are very angry that the court considered these mitigating circumstances,” he said, pounding a table while addressing journalists.
Julita Laude, mother of the victim, said she was thankful for the conviction but added: “I am not content with the six-12 year imprisonment.”
“The important thing is he will be jailed. My daughter did not die in vain,” she added.
– Police barricade –
Another family lawyer, Virgie Suarez, said Pemberton would serve at least six years and authorities would have the option of holding him longer, depending on his behaviour.
Lawyers at the court in Olongapo City, 79 kilometres (50 miles) northwest of Manila, said a black-suited Pemberton showed no reaction when the verdict was read.
Burly American guards shielded him from cameras as they escorted Pemberton to an upper floor, away from journalists.
The judge ruled that the American would be held temporarily at the national penitentiary until the two countries decide where he should serve his sentence.
Police barricaded the narrow street in front of the court, keeping out protesters who wanted to picket the event.
Pemberton’s homicide conviction is the first under a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the two countries signed in 1998, covering the legal liability of US troops taking part in military operations in the Philippines.
Leftist activists have used the Pemberton case to attack the VFA and the close defence ties between the United States and its former colony.
The protesters have been demanding that the American should not receive any special treatment and should be held in an ordinary jail.
“We want to see him behind bars. We want justice for our countryman,” rally organiser Eric Robeso told AFP.
The country’s lesbian, gay and transgender community has tried to use the case to draw attention to the discrimination it still faces in the conservative largely Catholic nation.