The decision of President Arroyo to grant executive clemency to Claudio Teehankee, Jr., comes as a great surprise, and like many other Palace directives, it came like a thief in the night. It certainly came as a surprise to the media, which delivered the news Monday — three days after Teehankee’s actual release from Bilibid.
The younger Teehankee, son of former Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee, Sr. was convicted of murder for the 1991 murder of Maureen Hultman and Roland John Chapman.
While the President is guaranteed the power to grant pardon under the 1987 constitution, clearly, public interest was not considered. All humanitarian considerations aside, one should consider that a heinous crime had been committed here, and not just a petty crime. The Palace, just like in its pardon of Erap in 2007, is sending the wrong signals by granting pardon to Teehankee.
If it is the health of inmates that is being considered in cases like Teehankee’s — or other convicts lining up for pardon — then pardon may not be the automatic solution. It is upgrading Bilibid’s health facilities.
While legally, the President Arroyo may not have erred, we can only realize too late yet another defect in our justice system. It has become too easy for any sitting president to grant clemency without proper consultation, no check and balance at all. And we realize now, how such power could undermine our justice system.
The Palace insists that the granting of clemency to Teehankee went through the proper due process.
But the law aside, I also find the clemency of the young Teehankee in bad taste. For one, Claudio Jr.’s brother, Manuel Teehankee is a presidential appointee, being a former undersecretary at the Department of Justice — the agency which reviewed the request for clemency. Manuel Teehankee is currently an appointed ambassador.
One cannot overlook the fact that President Arroyo herself is also very close to the Teehankees. The Teehankees are friends of the President.
President Arroyo is a Charter Member of the Claudio Teehankee Memorial Foundation. In 2001, she received the Rule of Law Award from the foundation. And in her own acceptance speech, the President herself revealed the kind of closeness she has with the Teehankees:
“I MUST ALSO GREET OF COURSE THE MEMBERS OF THE TEEHANKEE FAMILY NOT ONLY
DONDI, BUT TITA PILAR AND MY CLASSMATE PRICY. THAT’S THE REASON WHY I
BECAME A CHARTER MEMBER OF THE TEEHANKEE FOUNDATION BECAUSE OF PRICY, AND
NOW WITH CHIEF JUSTICE AND I RECEIVING THIS AWARD, I COULDN’T HELP BUT
WHISPER TO FR. BERNAS WHAT A HOMETOWN DECISION…”
The Teehankees may need to speak up.
Reviewing the 2001 speech, I find it ironic that the President went further to quote the late former Supreme Court Chief Justice himself:
THE LATE CHIEF JUSTICE TEEHANKEE SAID THAT “THE RULE OF LAW IS THE BASIS OF
ANY CIVILIZED SOCIETY — AND IT IS HERE — A LAW THAT UPHOLDS HUMAN DIGNITY
AND FREEDOM AND PROTECTS HUMAN RIGHTS.” THIS IS THE ESSENCE OF OUR
DEMOCRACY WITH A GOVERNMENT WHICH ACKNOWLEDGES THAT SOVEREIGNTY RESIDES IN
How ironic. So what about protecting the rights of the victims of heinous crimes?