(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita defended the recent pardon granted by President Arroyo to a contractor convicted of graft and corruption, saying that there is nothing wrong with the move if somebody lobbied for the freedom of the convict.

Ermita, however, said that he does not know if somebody had lobbied for the pardon of Jaime Ponce de Leon, a private contractor who was convicted of 27 counts of graft and sentenced to 203 years in prison by the Sandiganbayan.

Reports said Finance Secretary Margarito Teves lobbied with Mrs. Arroyo to pardon De Leon, who is said to be a relative of the secretary.

De Leon was found guilty of conspiring with officials of the then Ministry of Public Highways (now the Department of Public Works and Highways)–Bais City Highway Engineering District in ghost road projects.

Ermita said that in general, the power of the President to give pardon is absolute, and without condition.

He said a pardon is usually granted after the convict applies for it and his freedom is recommended by the Board of Pardons and Parole.

De Leon was reportedly pardoned right after he surrendered, more than eight years after hiding from authorities to avoid the prison sentence. In effect, he did not serve a minute of his sentence when he was pardoned last April 12, the same day he was supposed to be imprisoned.

STAR EDITORIAL – Absolute power Thursday, September 27, 2007

(STAR) Granting pardon to convicts is a presidential privilege. Like other privileges, this one entails responsibility and judiciousness in its exercise. Recent developments, however, raise questions about the way the presidential power to grant pardon is being wielded.

The rush to pardon Joseph Estrada immediately comes to mind. But deposed presidents with a loyal mass base are not the only ones who enjoy staying out of prison after being convicted of large-scale corruption. On the same day that Malacañang announced measures ordered by President Arroyo to promote transparency, a report from the Sandiganbayan said a private contractor convicted of 27 counts of graft and sentenced to 203 years in prison had received a conditional pardon from the President last April 12 – the very day he was supposed to start serving his sentence.

Jaime Ponce de Leon, who is reportedly related to the Teves clan, had been in hiding since his original conviction by the Sandiganbayan in 1989 for conspiring with officials of what used to be known as the Ministry of Public Highways in a case involving “ghost” road projects. De Leon must have known that pardon was forthcoming; he finally surfaced on April 12, ostensibly to surrender, as authorities received the order for his pardon.

Palace officials saw nothing wrong with this, with Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita emphasizing that the President’s power to grant pardon is “absolute.” The same argument is being invoked as the administration rushes to grant pardon to Estrada, even before his sentence becomes executory, and even when he insists that he does not want mercy from the President.

As the Marcos dictatorship has shown, Philippine presidents tend to see absolute power as a license for abuse. There is only one legitimate reason for granting pardon, parole or commutation of sentence, and it has nothing to do with the person wielding the absolute power. This power cannot be used as just another political reward for allies or to woo the support of political enemies. A presidential pardon is a humanitarian act, often granted as a reward for good behavior and indications that a convict has learned his lesson enough to resolve never to repeat his crime.

That lesson cannot be learned when a convict does not spend even five minutes in a prison cell. Estrada at least was detained for over six years in his own rest house. The pardon for De Leon shows that this administration’s campaign against graft is nothing but a farce.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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