I Beg Your Pardon

Atty. Fred from Jaromay Laurente Pamaos has in his blawg a small primer on the President’s power to pardon, and I suggest reading it before continuing on any further.

Now although the discourse is filed under criminal law, the power to pardon is a concept that law students encounter in political law. As I remember, the power to pardon of the President is discussed only in broad strokes in criminal law, and only to the extent of its effect on the liabilities of a convicted felon.

Although a pardon, broadly speaking, can be a reprieve from, or a commutation of a sentence, or a remittance of a fine or forfeiture, the President’s power to grant pardons is nevertheless a political exercise. In granting a pardon, the President acts as the embodiment of the Filipino people. It is exercised for and on behalf of the people precisely because a criminal act is considered in law to be a violation against each and every Filipino.

As it is a political exercise, the authors of the United States Constitution (from which our own framers copied the power of the President to pardon verbatim) have deemed it proper to restrict the power to pardon to avoid situations where the grant of the pardon could amount to political abuse. Thus, the power cannot be exercised in (1) violations of election laws, rules, and regulations without the approval of the COMELEC; (Sec. 5, Article IX-C, 1987 Phil. Const.) and (2) impeachment cases (Sec. 19, Article VII, 1987 Phil. Const.).

As borne by recent events, these are by no means the only instances in which the Presidential power to pardon can be abused. In the United States, the President’s power to grant pardons has always been news fodder. For instance, President Clinton pardoned persons involved in the Whitewater scandal that were directly related to him – eliciting many a howl from Republican propagandists. However, and if memory serves, the loudest howls were heard following Gerald Ford’s pardon of whatever crimes Nixon may have committed while President.

From the barrage of angry responses I’ve received lately, most people have expressed outrage and disgust at the immediate effect of the President’s pardon of Claudio Teehankee Jr. At a moot court I attended, some lawyers in attendance reminded me of how exactly the crime was committed: court records reveal conclusively that Teehankee shot Chapman, Hultman, and Leino at close range and left them for dead. Others have told me that barbarity of Teehankee’s kind deserves nothing less than the gallows.

Now I’m not a fan of the death penalty (because it doesn’t work – it only satisfies a primal blood lust), but there’s something to be said for having legal acts fostering perceptions that the criminal justice system in the Philippines is tilted heavily toward those who have anything – even a good name. Now the Teehankees are big believers in the rule of law, but it is easy to forget that what is legal is not necessarily right. Although it is certain that had “Bobbins”, as Teehankee is supposedly known, had not been named Claudio Teehankee Jr, he would not have attracted as much publicity and calls for his head on a silver platter, it is also as certain to that same extent that had not Bobbins been a Teehankee, he would not have had the same legal assistance as he has had in securing his pardon.

By all accounts, Claudio Teehankee Jr has lost everything. He no longer has his own money or a place of his own. It has been seventeen years – a lifetime – since he freely enjoyed the company of his children. The good name that his father struggled to forge in the darkest days of the dictatorship has now become a by-word for cheating the system – even if he didn’t.

His name is a joke – and probably will be for as long as he lives. Although living through that may eventually prove to be the harshest punishment of all, that in my opinion, is what a good name can do.

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