(Analysis) Why was Teehankee released in secret?

By Amando Doronila
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 03:09:00 10/10/2008

MANILA, Philippines—The release of Claudio Teehankee Jr. at close to midnight Friday from the New Bilibid Prison, where he was serving a life sentence for the cold-blooded murder of 16-year-old Maureen Hultman, sparked a public tempest over the apparently clandestine way it was done.

Teehankee, son of the late Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee, was freed from the national penitentiary after serving 14 years for a triple crime, including the gruesome murder of Hultman in 1991, after President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo granted him executive clemency in late September. He was also convicted of the fatal shooting of Hultman’s companion, Roland John Chapman, 21, and the almost fatal shooting of another companion, Jussi Olavi Leino. The killings shocked the nation, and the circumstances surrounding Teehankee’s release generated as much controversy. The release raised issues of special treatment for a member of an influential family, and the fairness of the Philippine judicial system.

Chief Justice Teehankee swore into office President Corazon Aquino after the ouster of President Ferdinand Marcos during the 1986 People Power Revolution. Teehankee Jr. is the elder brother of Ambassador Manuel Teehankee, the Philippine representative to the World Trade Organization in Geneva and a former undersecretary of justice.

The Teehankee release came after the politically controversial absolute pardon granted by President Arroyo to deposed president Joseph Estrada after was convicted of plunder by the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan — an act of executive clemency criticized as a politically motivated decision designed to appease the partisan followers of the highly popular Estrada.

The release of Teehankee shocked the members of the Hultman family who claimed that the administration breached the law and was not transparent when it failed to inform them as the government started processing the application for executive clemency.

Anders Hultman, father of Maureen, who had relocated his family to Stockholm, received the news as he was attending a business meeting in Stockholm. He said, “We are very surprised, shocked and very angry. [The grant of clemency] came from out of the blue, and was completely unexpected.”

Teehankee secretly left the prison complex at 7 p.m. Wednesday, eluding the media. Msgr. Robert Olaguer, the prison chaplain, said Teehankee “escaped” with the help of several unidentified men, who destroyed decorative blocks on the wall of the room where he had been staying.

Administration officials said the grant of clemency was above board and was extended after a mandatory review of the convict’s prison behavior. If it were so, it is hard to explain the deviousness of the release under cover of darkness.

Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio, who prosecuted the plunder case against Estrada and also the Teehankee case, supported the Hultmans’ claim that the government was less than transparent to them when it started considering clemency. He said that the executive failed to inform the victims’ family, the general public and the lead prosecutor about Teehankee’s last application for clemency.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez maintained that review procedures were followed in considering the petition. He said, “Teehankee is considered to have already served his sentence.”

Gonzalez said the executive clemency commuted Teehankee’s sentence, following two reviews by the Board of Pardons and Parole. New Bilibid Prison Superintendent Ramon Reyes said Teehankee was freed on the basis of his good conduct time allowance. He added that the release of Teehankee underwent “rigorous review” and was signed by Gonzalez.

But justice and social consequence issues of the decision in regard to public safety have been raised.

The Hultman couple disputed the statements made by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita that they had been informed of the President’s grant of clemency before it was reported in the media. “That’s a complete lie,” they said.

Ermita said that in pardoning Teehankee, the President did not have to inform the family of victims. “There is nothing that should compel the highest authority to inform them that such action has been taken by the President,” he said.

Ermita outlined the events leading to the grant of executive clemency. The review, he said, found that Teehankee had served a total of 17 years, two months and nine days before he was released on Oct. 3. Combined with good conduct time allowance, his term reached 21 years, three months and five days.

Ermita furnished reporters with copies of a document signed on Nov. 12, 1999 by Vivian and Anders Hultman. The document said: “The Hultmans … will not object to nor interpose any opposition to the application for such parole or commutation or shortening for the sentence of … Teehankee.”

On Jan. 13, Ermita said, the Hultmans filed in court “a notice of satisfaction of judgment with respect to the civil aspect.” But Vivian Hultman said, “We signed the papers … for the settlement of civil damages, not because we agreed that he will be pardoned.” She said the P6 million Teehankee paid was the amount the court had ordered him to pay upon finding him guilty of killing Hultman and Chapman.

But if the agreement and the review procedure were all above board, what was the reason for all the deviousness and secrecy in the release of Teehankee? Will the community be safe from this man who is at large again?

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