Businessmen slam Teehankee pardon

By Nikko Dizon, Daxim Lucas
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 02:34:00 10/10/2008

MANILA, Philippines—The influential Makati Business Club (MBC) Thursday criticized Malacañang’s “mishandling” of the grant of executive clemency to Claudio Teehankee Jr., saying the move was symptomatic of the broader problem of lack of transparency hounding the Arroyo administration.

The MBC also said the arguments of Malacañang officials in support of Teehankee’s release “betrayed a disturbing lack of respect for victims’ rights and the public’s right to information.”

Teehankee, now 62, was convicted of the 1991 killing of Maureen Hultman, 16, and Ronald John Chapman, and the near-fatal attack on Jussi Leino. He drew a life term and two lesser sentences. He was granted clemency by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo late in September and released midnight of Oct. 3.

“While the government may have made the motions to meet the minimum requirements of the law with the notification of the Hultman family—which the Hultmans never received—and the publication of a notice when Teehankee applied for executive clemency, the recent statements of [Executive Secretary Eduardo] Ermita and Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez have demonstrated a dismaying indifference to the plight of the victims’ families, insisting that the government was under no obligation to inform the Hultman family about the presidential pardon,” the MBC said in a press statement.

The umbrella organization of the Philippines’ largest corporations, the MBC has been critical of Malacañang since it called on Ms Arroyo to step down in 2005 in the wake of the “Hello Garci” election fraud scandal.

Correct, but…

The MBC said Ermita was correct in his assertion that the power to commute sentences and grant pardons was a constitutionally enshrined presidential prerogative of the President. But it questioned the use of this argument to parry criticism of Ms Arroyo.

“Why deny the Hultmans, one of the grievously offended parties in this case, the courtesy and the right to be informed and to respond to the government decision?” it said.

The group pointed out that given the sensational nature of the case and the public attention that surrounded it, the lack of transparency in the grant of clemency could “only lead people to question the motives behind the Arroyo administration’s actions.”

It also tied the administration’s actions with the results of recent business surveys showing the Philippines languishing near the bottom of global competitiveness rankings.

The recently released Global Competitiveness Report 2008–2009 of the World Economic Forum indicates that the Philippines has not made headway in improving its competitiveness rankings.

It states that one of the major reasons for this is the poor quality of the Philippines’ public institutions.

“With the Arroyo administration’s mishandling of the Teehankee case, we only see a further erosion in the people’s trust in our public institutions,” the MBC said.

225 political prisoners

Elsewhere, militant groups Karapatan and Selda issued a joint statement saying that with the grant of clemency to Teehankee, the President should also order the release of the remaining political prisoners her government agreed to free under the Oslo Joint Statement of 2004.

According to the human rights group Karapatan, of the 225 political prisoners nationwide, 198 were incarcerated under the Arroyo administration.

“How easy it is for this government to free a child killer while political prisoners continue to languish in jail,” said Donato Continente, spokesperson for Selda (Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detention at para sa Amnestiya).

Continente, himself a former political prisoner, assailed what he called the Arroyo administration’s “practice of giving pardon to heinous crime offenders while sending political activists to jail.”

“Political prisoners should be freed first rather than giving executive clemency to heinous crime offenders such as Teehankee and former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada,” he said.

Continente challenged the administration to “uphold its commitment to peace agreements and free all political prisoners.”

He said it continued to practice “a double standard in our justice system with the release of Teehankee,” and cited Ms Arroyo’s purported propensity to set free “the wealthy and the mighty” while disregarding agreements like the Oslo Joint Statement.

Continente was sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of US Col. James Rowe, but the Supreme Court lowered his term to 17 years. He was released in 2005 after having spent 17 years at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa City.

Only 7 of 31

Karapatan spokesperson Ruth Cervantes said only seven of the 31 political prisoners who should have been released under the Oslo Joint Statement signed on April 3, 2004, with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines had been freed.

They were Alison Alcantara, Maribel Barcenal, Lucena Lagado, Antonieta Pegoria, Zenaida Llesis, Antonio Violin, and Alfredo Yodico.

Cervantes said Violin was sick and elderly and Yodico had been ill.

She also said Llesis was pregnant when abducted and imprisoned, and that human rights groups had to campaign for her release.

Cervantes said some of the remaining political prisoners had either served their sentence or their cases had been dismissed on merit.

She said one—70-year-old Haj Amad Upao, who was accused of being a member of the bandit group Abu Sayyaf—was killed in the siege of Camp Bagong Diwa in 2005.

Cervantes said nine of the political prisoners included in the Oslo Joint Statement had been approved for release since 2001 but remained in jail—Pedro Madera, Jr., Ricardo Solangon, Basilides Badion, Janeth Montecalvo, Galo Omar, Palili Jammang, Moner Taufic, Abubakar Bimbas and Jonnes Dinaguit.

She said Madera and Solangaon were still at the NBP. Omar, Jammang, Taufic and Bimbas were minors at the time of their arrest, she said, adding that they were detained at Camp Bagong Diwa after being accused of membership in the Abu Sayyaf during “martial law” in Basilan in 2001.

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