Early this week, news broke on the pardon granted by Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to Rodolfo M. Manalili who masterminded the abduction and murder of Ernesto Cochise Bernabe II and Ana Lourdes Beebom Castanos in April 25, 1990.
In a years time, we would be commemorating the abduction, rape and murder of these two young and promising students and future leaders our nation will never have. After creating a maelstrom that saw the enactment of the death penalty and the creation of the witness protection program brought about by public outrage and condemnation of this crime, our President, in one stroke of her mighty pen appends closure to Cochise and Beeboms deaths by rewarding the killers and re-opening the yet unhealed wounds it has brought to Bernabes and Castanos families, friends and colleagues.
Because Press Secretary Cerge Remonde is aware of the utter heinousness of Manalilis crime, he hides under the oft repeated chorus that the recent pardons is yet just another part of the ministerial duties of the President. That murderers, rapists, and grafters are freed after spending time for their crimes while alleviated by credible good behaviour is purely hogwash. Nothing can be more revolting when our officials coax our anger with arrogance treating us like children. We are even led to the self induced refrain that these actions are part of the corrective nature of the modern penal system. In short, dont blame the President, she was just doing her job.
But our beef is not on forgiveness and on the Board of Pardons and Parole. Our anger stems from the transactional politics of this administration. The common adherence to law and order is thrown at the waste bin to accommodate patronage and political accommodation. The President fails to realize that above-all the wheeling and dealing in the Palace, she is expected to raise the bar of presidential action and in this case, her application of her power to grant pardons.
We have and will continue to support the Constitution and the laws of this Republic. We have done so and continue to do so in the ninety decades of our existence. But what we abhor is the wanton capitulation of this Administration to interest groups or individuals exposing the lack of political will to enforce judicial decisions creating a shadow of doubt as to how this government will fight corruption and lawlessness when high profile and financially endowed murderers, rapists, thieves and plunderers are granted pardon and clemency at the beck of presidential prerogative.
We are aware that Arroyos record of pardoning and granting executive clemency to many prisoners run into the hundreds if not thousands by this time. But we reckon that such actions to release and award freedom to old, sickly convicts with deteriorating health conditions will be the same action of any other president. To argue here that the president chooses neither from power nor from lack of it is misleading, if not downright pretentious. And because the decision to grant pardons and clemency have been tainted , what we hear is the process rhetoric.
Why then would we not think that this government is biased for the privileged few and not for all when the President pardons the likes of Jaime Ponce de Leon, convicted of 27 counts of graft and sentenced to 203 years in prison but never saw even the mere shadow of his prison cell because he was pardoned on the day he was to serve his sentence. We have the bungled initial release and pardon of convicted rapist Romeo Jalosjos, an ex-Congressman who had to be re-captured in hometown Zamboanga only to be finally freed after a few months re-detention. The other equally famous Claudio Teehankee, son of a former Chief Justice who lived a pampered life inside Bilibid who was released even before media got wind of the news. And of course, most obvious and sensational of all, the granting of executive clemency to former president Erap Estrada who was convicted of plunder, more from being handed his sentence.
We are a nation of laws. We seek redress from the courts and we find its judgment the final arbiter of the gravity of ones offense. Presidential pardon is a special privilege allocated to the President to use and exercise with utmost care and discretion. It is neither a magic wand nor a free-pass granted at whim. The Board of Pardons and Parole is a commendable government agency whose goal is to provide a venue for relief and executive action for humanitarian reasons. Its recommendations must not be the sole basis for judgment of pardons and clemency. Just like any other democratic process, the flip side of the coin must also be presented. The parties aggrieved must be reached and their assent secured.
We believe that Rodolfo M. Manalili deserves to serve his full sentence. The lives of Cochise and Beebom can at the very least be honored by making those responsible for their deaths serve their full sentence. We deplore the official statement that the pardon was an exercise in process and that the Presidents signature is merely ministerial. We condemn the inclusion and even the mere allusion of a changed man as a primary basis for exacting pardons and the process used to bear these fruits. The serving of ones sentence implicitly involves ones repentance and remorse. No amount of good behaviour should be incorporated as a means to shorten ones sentence for it depraves us of our own dignity and corrodes our trust and allegiance to our laws.
We ask the President to repeal the pardon and exact on Manalili and his cohorts that in the Philippines, crime does pay.
We also call on every decent and law-abiding Filipino to join our call.
For the memory of Cochise and Beebom, we remain steadfast.
For the Upsilon Sigma Phi Alumni Association (USPAA):
Eliseo M. Ilano, Chairman
Jacinto S. Puno, President
For the Upsilon Sigma Phi Los Banos Alumni Association (USPLBAA):
Arbie Bisenio, Chairman
For the Upsilon Sigma Phi North America (USPNA):
Noel Cruz, President
For the Upsilon Sigma Phi Resident Chapters:
Julian Rodrigo A. dela Cruz, Illustrious Fellow (Diliman)
Jupiter Pante P. Nunez, Illustrious Fellow (Los Banos)