The intensity of the uproar over a government decision can be measured on the length of the officials’ retreat. You step on a hot surface you say “agay!” and run away. One should not be surprised then that after President Arroyo commuted the sentence of convicted rapist Romeo Jalosjos, Malacañang now seems bent on keeping him in jail.
Public anger on the manner President Arroyo is abusing—or specifically using as political tool—her power to pardon, grant paroles or commute the sentences of convicts is perceptible. It seethed when convicted plunderer Joseph Estrada was pardoned, then boiled over with the freeing of one of the convicts in the Aquino-Galman murder case.
Correct me if I am wrong, but a president’s power to pardon, grant paroles or commute sentences is both for humanitarian purposes and to correct any kink in the judicial process. That is why exercising the power should be done judiciously. I don’t think using the power to gain for the president political adherents is a judicious exercise.
Estrada can be considered as the biggest fish ever to be convicted for plunder. Jalosjos, too, is the biggest name in recent times to be found guilty of rape. Both can be considered exhibits of the positive side of this country’s rickety criminal justice system. That their convictions are being negated by the acts of President Arroyo is unfortunate.
Besides, there are hundreds of prisoners, not politically influential or nameless perhaps, who are more deserving of pardon, parole or commutation of sentences than the likes of Estrada and Jalosjos. Their incarceration, ranged against the President’s leniency on the rich and influential detainees, makes a mockery of the said presidential power.
Still, it is good that, for a change, Malacañang backed off because of adverse public opinion to its decision. Or has it learned a lesson in the Erap case, when its hasty move to free the convicted plunderer backfired? I say it backfired because the former president is mending political fences and consolidating his forces while hitting Arroyo.
But I doubt if a turnaround is enough. Malacañang should correct the anomaly by seeking out all of the prisoners more deserving of its leniency and begin the process of freeing them. That may not be politically advantageous but is spiritually enriching.
–I wrote this for my Candid Thoughts column in the December 20, 2005 issue of Sun.Star Cebu