, JANUARY 15, 2007 (STAR) By Marvin Sy - President Arroyo is not likely to pardon the 13 convicted killers of Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. and Rolando Galman, but she is amenable to the hospitalization of those who are suffering from life-threatening illnesses, Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Sergio Apostol said yesterday.

Apostol said the President would act with great deliberation on the case of the 13.

He said the President listens to public opinion and particularly heeds the sentiments of the slain senator’s family.

The campaign to free the remaining convicts has been snowballing for weeks now after Public Attorney’s Office (PAO) chief Persida Rueda-Acosta pushed for executive clemency from the President.

The proposal received another boost yesterday from a ranking Catholic bishop.

While former President Corazon Aquino has publicly stated that she has forgiven the soldiers, her son Sen. Benigno Aquino III has opposed the grant of pardon because of the convicts’ refusal to admit guilt.

Acosta has recommended to the President that the 13 be pardoned on the basis of their failing health.

Apostol said illness is a valid reason for the grant of pardon but this is a special case where other factors would have to be considered.

“Most of them are sickly, but because of the objections of the Aquino family, I think the President will be very slow in granting them pardon,” Apostol said.

The Palace top lawyer said he would recommend to the President that instead of granting pardon, the convicts should just be hospitalized because of their ailments.

“Not really pardon, they should be hospitalized so they could avail of the services of the government,” he said.

He pointed out that only six or seven of the 13 are very sick and require special medical attention, even if the Department of Health (DOH) had confirmed that all 13 convicts were suffering from life threatening illnesses.

He however noted that one of the convicts should be released because he has already completed his sentence.

Apostol was referring to 61-year-old Felizardo Taran, who he said would no longer have to be pardoned because of his circumstances.

“Many of them are very sick, but Taran should be released already because he’s fully served his sentence. There is no need for a pardon for him,” he said.

DOJ supports pardon

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez has supported the position of Acosta but is leaving it up to the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) and the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor) to come up with the necessary recommendations.

He also argued that the condition set by the Aquino family in order for the convicts to be granted pardon should not be considered and has no legal basis.

“I will not oppose (the granting of pardon),” Gonzalez said.

Since none of the 13 would admit guilt in the killing of Aquino and Galman, Gonzalez said the basis for the pardon should be limited to time served and health.

If ever the President decides to pardon any of the convicts, Gonzalez said her decision cannot be questioned.

“Yes, (her power is) exclusive and absolute. No one could question it, even the Aquino family,” he emphasized.

The justice secretary also cited that even one of former President Aquino’s “closest advisers” – Sen. Joker Arroyo – has favored the granting of pardon.

Church OKs pardon

Meanwhile, Caloocan Bishop Deogracias Iniguez Jr., public affairs chair of Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, said he sees nothing wrong with the recommendation of Acosta.

“That’s okay. There are policies covering that and I think it’s in the right order,” Iniguez told The STAR when asked for his opinion on the issue.

But he stressed that while the convicted killers could be freed for humanitarian reasons as argued by Acosta, they should also reveal to the public everything they know about the assassination of Aquino on Aug. 21, 1983 – specifically the mastermind behind the killing.

“They should really reveal what they know. And this could be done through various circumstances that may apply,” he explained.

Asked for his advice to Mrs. Aquino, the prelate said the senator’s widow should learn how to forgive and listen to what the soldiers have to say.

“Forgiveness is always Christian. Although it’s up to her, she should have as complete a picture as possible,” Iniguez stressed.

The prelate shares this stand with the head of evangelical churches in the country, Evangelical Bishop Efraim Tendero.

“It’s about time to free them (soldiers). We strongly support and call for the pardon of the Aquino-Galman killers,” Tendero, national director of Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches, told The STAR.

Most of the soldiers have reportedly become born-again Christians.

‘Illness could lead to death’

The Department of Health (DOH) has also certified yesterday the medical certificates of the soldiers that showed they have “health problems and serious ailments.”

“We are not in the position to recommend their release but we certify the earlier medical findings of the BuCor that they are seriously ill,” said DOH Undersecretary Jade del Mundo in a press briefing.

Last Dec. 5, BPP executive director Atty. Reynaldo Bayang had endorsed the BuCor’s findings to Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita relative to the convicts’ application for executive clemency.

Del Mundo noted that Ermita tossed it back to Bayang “for compliance with Section 3 (f) of the Board’s Amended Guidelines for Recommending Executive Clemency and appropriate recommendation.”

The provision states that the DOH shall certify the findings of BuCor concerning prisoners who suffer from “serious and life-threatening illness/disease or severe physical disability such as those who are totally blind, paralyzed, bed-ridden” and others.

Because of this, Acosta had requested Del Mundo to have the BuCor’s report validated. The DOH official then referred the matter to the Las Piñas General Hospital and Satellite Trauma Center that sent internist Dr. Ma. Christina Martinez to check on the inmates.

Del Mundo added that based on the examinations conducted by Martinez, the inmates have “progressive” illnesses that could lead to death if not given appropriate medical attention.

The findings are:

• Rolando de Guzman, 55 – right side of the body is paralyzed due to stroke; Type 2 diabetes; chronic kidney disease; severe hypertension and costochondritis

• Claro Lat, 59 – severe hypertension; angina pectoris or a coronary heart disease in which the heart muscle does not get as much blood/oxygen as it needs; Type 2 diabetes, dyslipidemia or high cholesterol and benign prostatic hypertrophy or enlarged prostate

• Ernesto Mateo, 53 – severe hypertension and dyslipidemia

• Felizardo Taran, 61 –Type 2 diabetes, severe hypertension, diabetic retinopathy, diabetic nephropathy and diabetic gastropathy

• Mario Lazaga, 54 – Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and diabetes neuropathy

• Felomino Miranda, 59 –Type 2 diabetes, severe hypertension and dyslipedemia

• Arnulfo Artates, 53 – acute renal failure secondary to obstructive urophaty or kidney failure; autosomal dominant polycystic kidney disease or multiple cysts in the kidney; ureterolithiasis or stone in the urether and bradyarrythmia or irregular heart beat

• Jesus Castro, 58 – severe hypertension and dyslipedemia

• Arnulfo de Mesa, 48 – Type 2 diabetes, fatty liver and upper respiratory tract infection

• Rodolfo Desolong, 62 – severe hypertension; type 2 diabetes; diabetic retinophaty, neuritis and dyslipedemia

• Romeo Bautista, 57 – hypertension, cerebrovascular disease and dyslipidemia

• Ruben Aquino, 57 – state III hypertension; type 2 diabetes; dyslipidemia; hyperthyroidism

• Rogelio Moreno, 51 – severe hypertension, cerebrovascular disease; dyslipidemia

“This is dangerous if we are to combine these illnesses. They can die. They need close medical attention, maintenance medication and follow up check-ups,” Del Mundo said.

He expressed belief that the “sedentary lifestyle” of the inmates in jail caused their health to deteriorate.

“They have a restricted kind of lifestyle there. They are not able to move around and do full exercises. I think that’s the main reason,” he said.

Nothing personal

Acosta expressed belief that the inmates deserve to be released soon not only because of their health condition but also because they already served their sentence.

She added that although a convict was meted a life term, he could be jailed for 20 to 30 years for one count of murder and up to 40 years for two counts of murder.

Asked about the strong opposition of Sen. Noynoy Aquino to the granting of clemency, Acosta maintained that the inmates have been in jail for 25 years and already deserved to be released.

“I understand him because he is a son of the victim. But I hope he will also understand us. It is the mandate of the PAO to help the accused whether they are convicted or their case is still pending. We are just doing our job. Nothing personal,” she said.

Acosta has urged the senator to find it in his heart to forgive the inmates. “They have suffered for 25 years. I think they should be forgiven.”

The PAO had argued the case should be reopened after unearthing supposed new evidence, specifically the findings of forensics expert Prof. Jerome Bailen that showed it was Galman who shot Aquino.

The appeal for reopening of the double murder case was heard but later junked by the Supreme Court.

The soldiers pointed to a “close relative of President Aquino” as the mastermind of the assassination, but the former president refused to believe their claim. – With Edu Punay, Sheila Crisostomo, Reinir Padua

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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