Ninoy: Where the Real Injustice Is

It very much seems that President Arroyo is well on her way to becoming the president who pardoned or gave executive clemency to those who may not really deserve it.

In 2007, PGMA pardoned her predecessor, Joseph Estrada, just shortly after being convicted by the Sandiganbayan for plunder. Humanitarian supposedly served as the basis, after Erap had turned 70 last year, which made him eligible for pardon. Erap has never acknowledged any wrongdoing.

Many, of course, would speculate that Erap’s release wasn’t really for humanitarian reasons, but for the Arroyo administration’s survival. Upon Erap’s release, the Gloria herself acknowledged that her predecessor’s plunder case had been the biggest thorn in her administration.

Last year, the president granted clemency to Claudio Teehankee, Jr., who was convicted for the murder of Maureen Hultman. While there also seems to be enough legal basis to give him pardon, many criticized the President’s decision to set him free. Aside from the crime itself being heinous, it was clear, from the President herself, that she pardoned a family friend.

Had the president herself not acted to stop his release, we would also have seen former representative Romeo Jalosjos free from prison, after being convicted.

The constitution gives the president the sole prerogative to grant pardon and clemency. Just how much is this power?

We saw it this week, with the release of the ten remaining convicts in the murder of Sen. Ninoy Aquino. Of course, we know that Ninoy’s murder paved the way for a dictator’s ouster from power, and the restoration of our country’s democracy in 1986. Ninoy became a hero, and Gloria herself made this official when she signed a law officially honoring him as such — (which explains why August 21 is now a holiday).

Now, it would seem that our current president, by her proclamation, is erasing the legacy of the slain senator, as well as the very spirit of EDSA. Why? Topping the speculated reasons is to spite former President Corazon Aquino, who has called for PGMA’s resignation, following the Hello Garci scandal in 2005.

It very easy to feel betrayed. One could easily blurt out, “The nerve of PGMA!”

Personally, I felt numb, and I was left in disbelief. However, after looking at the bigger picture and looking at the law, I feel constrained to keeping my hackles down.

The soldiers had been convicted for 40 years and had been already been able to serve more than 25. They were released for good behavior and the president’s commutation herself, which again, only she has the prerogative to proclaim under the constitution. So legally speaking, there is basis.

I will have to completely agree with the sentiments of Senator Joker Arroyo, who was the Executive Secretary of Cory. Some may feel that the Aquino-Galman convicts are the scum of the earth, but scum as some people may consider them to be, they are still Filipinos with rights enshrined in the constitution:

“We cannot break that system all because Ninoy is involved. That would deny the convicts the equal protection of the law… the last of them had been recently released, not by the grace of the President but because of an applicable law, the parole system, whereby prisoners for good behavior do not have to serve out their full terms under a time-tested formula which has been in the works for over 50 years.”

If there is something wrong about the president granting clemency, I now wonder why no one is bothering to question the decision at the Supreme Court. No one went to the Supreme Court when Erap was released, nor was this done when Teehankee was released.

The lesson: we need to review our laws. Should there be limits to a president’s power to grant pardon or clemency? How do we prevent this from being abused?

I have said the same thing about the impeachment process in the country. Anti-Gloria forces have constantly complained that the democratic process has been raped so many times. But no one has made any efforts to really strengthen the process, protect it from those who would undermine it, and keep it free from the influence of pork barrel.

The clemency given to the soldiers will always seem unjust, but for me, the greater injustice lies not in their release.

For starters, the injustice to Ninoy’s legacy lies in the fact that the country still does not know for sure who the mastermind is. That person may still be alive. Let’s also not forget that up to now, the Marcoses have not been made accountable.

More than the soldiers, the great injustice to Ninoy’s legacy is that 26 years later, our country has not realized the real fruits of a restored democracy. The four presidents after Marcos have failed in eradicating corruption and poverty. Our political system continues to degenerate as we speak. We are not able to assert our sovereignty. Self interest and greed are top considerations not just in politics, but in many other sectors. And yes, plunderers are granted clemency.

So where does the injustice really lie?

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