MANILA, OCTOBER 8, 2008 (STAR) By Christina Mendez - Senators slammed yesterday President Arroyo’s commutation of sentence and the release under a veil of secrecy last Thursday of murder convict Claudio Teehankee Jr., a brother of a justice undersecretary.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez, however, stressed there was nothing irregular in the presidential clemency that commuted Teehankee’s prison term from 40 to 21 years.

Senators Benigno Aquino III, Francis Escudero, Loren Legarda, Francis Pangilinan and Panfilo Lacson raised a howl over the lack of transparency and the apparent preferential treatment for affluent convicts who were granted pardon or clemency.

Aquino chided anew the Arroyo administration for its policy on the granting of pardon.

Aquino, whose family had early on opposed the grant of executive clemency to the killers of former Sen. Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., said there is a need to revisit the parameters of executive clemency.

“In the Philippines, convicted murderers such as Claudio Teehankee Jr., who had shot and killed a sixteen-year old girl, and Sgt. Pablo Martinez (a convicted Ninoy killer), who has admitted his participation in the conspiracy to kill my father, were set free through the seemingly arbitrary granting of executive clemency,” he said.

In both cases, Aquino said the pardon was carried out under a shroud of secrecy, “again belying this administration’s penchant for deliberately concealing matters that should concern the public.”

He added there was no need to keep the clemency from the public eye if there was nothing anomalous about the issue.

“The executive was not meant to use the power to pardon to dole out favors to friend or inflict punishment on perceived enemies. To do so is an affront to criminal justice in the country,” Aquino said.

Pangilinan expressed concern that the public will only lose more confidence in the justice system because of the executive clemency.

“It is hard to understand how a life imprisonment of 40 years was reduced to a mere 14-year term. Is this because he came from a prominent family?” he asked.

DOJ, BuCor defend clemency Gonzalez, taking up the cudgels for the executive during the Department of Justice (DOJ) budget hearing, explained that Teehankee, son of a former chief justice, had served 21 years and a few months, including the four years spent at the Makati City Jail before he was transferred to the Bureau of Corrections (BuCor).

“Those four years that he was in jail in Makati is already counted in his favor in the computation of the time served, so he has served for more than 21 years. When the President made the computation, she considered the time served already so what was commuted was the remainder of what he should have served. The net effect there would be that he has already served his full term.”

BuCor chief Oscar Calderon, for his part, said Teehankee went through the usual process.

“I would say he should have been released September 28 but the process took many days. The man has been jailed for 15 years. Once somebody tells you you are free to go, (you’d go immediately),” said Calderon, who surmised that Teehankee may have wanted to leave the BuCor discreetly when he decided to leave by midnight last Thursday.

Calderon added the commutation of Teehankee’s sentence had been in the works since 2006, and it took two years before the Board of Pardon and Parole (BPP) decided on his petition.

Shrugging off criticism that the BuCor was keen only on recommending the commutation of sentences of convicts who come from affluent families, Calderon said “everybody is qualified for executive clemency” upon reaching the minimum service of sentence.

But Senator Roxas lamented the patently unequal application of justice in the country.

His reaction was prompted by the admission of Gonzalez that Teehankee’s release was facilitated by a visit of his brother, Philippine Representative to the World Trade Organization and former Justice undersecretary Manuel Teehankee, to intercede and seek early release of his elder brother.

Following the former DOJ undersecretary’s visit, Gonzalez said he ordered the BuCor and the BPP to recompute Claudio Jr.’s credits. President Arroyo thereafter granted the convict executive clemency in late September.

Roxas urged the DOJ to also review the cases and applications for clemency and pardon of other convicts, particularly the elderly who have no financial resources for the quick facilitation of their applications.

Rolito Go next? The noise created by the controversial release of Teehankee has opened the question of whether Rolito Go is next to fly the coop.

Gonzalez, however, was quick to say that Go is not eligible for parole and has not been recommended.

But he virtually confirmed that Go’s petition is currently being reviewed by the DOJ.

“There is already a petition. The thing that was considered I think was the fact that already there was a vehement objection from the family of (Eldon) Maguan. But lately there seems to be some sort of a thaw because they already accepted the payment of the civil damages,” Gonzalez added.

However, Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio, the lead prosecutor behind Teehankee’s conviction in 1992, said rules were broken in the release of the high-profile convict.

He cited at least two provisions of the BPP Revised Rules and Regulations that were violated by the government.

Villa-Ignacio said the DOJ had violated its own rules when it allowed the release of the convicted murderer without informing the public beforehand.

Under the rules promulgated by the DOJ on March 7, 2006, names of prisoners convicted of heinous crimes who qualified for parole or executive clemency must be published in a newspaper of general circulation.

The special prosecutor also said the government failed to issue necessary notifications to involved parties, including the convicting judge, the offended party, and him – the handling prosecutor.

“What’s the point of creating rules if they would not be followed anyway?” the senior state prosecutor commented in an interview.

He, however, admitted that there could be no more available legal recourse despite the violation since the implementation of executive clemency has already been completed.

Villa-Ignacio stressed that nothing could be done about President Arroyo’s decision to pardon Teehankee.

“Her power to grant clemency is absolute. She can even exercise it without waiting for a recommendation from the DOJ and the BPP,” he said.

“Perhaps, it would be best that we’ll be on the lookout next time. We should watch out for the other controversial cases, like that of Rolito Go, where convicts might soon be pardoned,” he said.

Presidential prerogative Malacañang, meanwhile, defended the President’s decision to grant executive clemency, saying Teehankee’s case was really nothing special.

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita emphasized that the President has the power and prerogative to grant executive clemency to convicts and that Teehankee was just one of 292 already pardoned this year.

“Mr. Teehankee should not be treated separately except for the fact that he happens to have a prominent name,” Ermita said.

He denied claims that Teehankee was secretly led out of the national penitentiary at around midnight last Saturday as if there was something irregular about his release.

Ermita noted that Teehankee was supposed to be released last Sept. 28 but this was carried out only last Oct. 2 so “medyo na-late pa” (it was even late).

According to Ermita, one of the major issues taken into consideration by the President when she reviewed the recommendation to pardon Teehankee was the fact that the family of Maureen Hultman did not object to the prospect of this happening.

Ermita said the representatives of Teehankee met with the lawyer and parents of Hultman in 1999 and that indemnity was given to the family.

He said a total of P6.964 million in cash was given to the Hultmans as well as a property of Teehankee situated in San Juan City.

“Therefore this is committed to go to the Hultmans and they did not object when asked about the possibility of giving Mr. Teehankee pardon. The Hultmans thought there was remorse on the part of Mr. Teehankee,” Ermita said.

“He has served his time and therefore they did not object when they were asked during the processing of his papers whether they have any objection to the grant of executive clemency to Mr. Teehankee. That’s a major factor,” he added.

Press Secretary Jesus Dureza said the pardon given to Teehankee would not restore his political rights.

Teehankee was sentenced to reclusion perpetua (life imprisonment) and also received two sentences of prision mayor to reclusion temporal (imprisonment of from eight to 14 years, 8 months and one day), aside from being ordered to pay more than P15 million in actual, moral and exemplary damages, and an additional P3 million for attorney’s fees and litigation.

Still inside A GMA news report, however, confirmed that Teehankee was spotted inside a chapel at the NBP compound attending a counseling and transition debriefing.

The report said he was seen walking in and out of the facility and was fetched by his brother on Monday.

Teehankee declined to comment on the objections on his release and begged off from facing the camera.

He, however, acquiesced to the reporter’s request and answered three of the five questions written on a piece of paper brought in by some students.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) said they respect the President’s prerogative but questioned if the government applied the proper method to reform the inmates before they are released.

Rodolfo Diamante, executive secretary of the CBCP-Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (ECPPC), said “it was the prerogative of the President to grant executive clemency to a prisoner. It is not even the right of the prisoner, they could ask for pardon but the President could act on this or not.”

But Diamante wants to know whether the convicted murderer underwent rehabilitation and has shown remorse.

The Church official also believes that executive clemencies are political decisions made by the highest official and this has been the practice even before the time of Mrs. Arroyo.– With Mike Frialde, Jess Diaz, Edu Punay, Marvin Sy, Evelyn Macairan, Rhodina Villanueva, GMANews.TV

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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