Friday, November 09, 2007
Manila Bulletin’s October 26, 2007 news story “GMA pardons Erap; hopes aired for reconciliation” shows one such case in which the Philippine President exercises executive power. In the article, current President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo bestowed Executive Clemency to her ousted predecessor Joseph Estrada after his six-year litigation culminated with his conviction on corruption charges. The former president has since accepted his much-criticized successor’s granted pardon, notwithstanding if his lifetime sentence for plunder was meted just a month before and if the restoration of his civil and political rights was interpreted as the other end of a political bargain.
Indeed, the President of the Philippines enjoys a constitutionally-vested executive power, one manifestation of which is the executive clemency exemplified above. This executive capacity vested on the President is stipulated in the Article 7, Section 1 of the Philippines’ supreme law (de Leon, Hector: Rex, 2005). In fact, this inherence of power to only one person that’s the Philippine President makes him or her as the Executive rather than the misnomer Chief Executive, which would mean that there may be other though less powerful executives. Given that Arroyo heads a presidential system of government, the Chief Executive that she is actually implements legislations, among other things, through the many subordinate executives under her office. In the case of freed Erap, Arroyo has her order read by Press Secretary and acting Executive Secretary Ignacio Bunye, served by Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno, and only noted by the Sandiganbayan, which decided Erap’s corruption penalty of reclusion perpetua.
Cooley, as noted by de Leon, has defined executive power as “the power to administer the laws, which means carrying them into practical operation and enforcing their due observance.” This means the executive power of Arroyo is defined apart from the judiciary and legislative branches of her government. Whereas the Supreme Court along with the smaller courts interprets the laws and both the Congress and Senate make laws, the President as Executive implements laws which, de Leon adds, “include the Constitution, statutes enacted by Congress, decrees (issued under the 1973 Constitution), and executive orders of the President, and decisions of courts.” Apart from the Section 19 executive capacity to bestow reprieves, commutations, and pardons as in the case of Erap, the Philippine President can summon the armed forces to crush rebellion or invasion as the Commander-in-Chief, can declare martial law and suspend the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, can contract or guarantee foreign loans, and can make bureaucratic appointment.
In granting pardon to Erap, Arroyo cites “her government’s policy of releasing inmates who have reached the age of 70 and have served considerable amount of jail time.” While the first qualifier is acceptable since Erap is already 70 years at the time of his conviction, the second qualifier is questionable since the one-month prison service of Erap right after the Sandiganbayan’s sentence and just before the handing down of the presidential clemency is hardly “considerable amount,” if at all. It may be interpreted, though, that the six-year litigation of Erap while in house arrest in Tanay, Rizal is that relatively long “jail time” being referred to in the order. The rapid period in which the pardon came just when Erap was in the initial days of his lifelong imprisonment naturally reeks of a political trade wherein Erap promises never to run public office in the future. The bargain from Erap does not seem an acceptance of guilt (his legal counsels are still making an appeal, after all) nor an expression of public apology, so the presidential pardon appears being jeopardized for abuse. It can even be read as a preemption of what bleak future in jail probably awaits Arroyo if she should suffer the exact same fate as her predecessor. On the other hand, it may indeed be euphemistically read as a much-awaited “national reconciliation amid years of bitter political division.” Whatever the agenda, the case in question is Arroyo’s exercise of her absolute power of presidential prerogative to grant executive clemency. First qualifier is “absolute”; second is “prerogative”—there appears to be no argument when it comes to being the Executive. What is worth pondering upon is the fact that the Philippine President, herself mired in issues of moral ascendancy, remains the only and final judge of national interest in a country so divided over a controversial pardon.