Executive Clemency for Teehankee a Betrayal of Public Trust

A rightful outcry has been raised over the grant of executive clemency and midnight release of convicted murderer Claudio Teehankee Jr., son and namesake of the late Chief Justice. Teehankee shot to death two people in cold blood, 16-year old Maureen Hultman and 21-year old Ronald Chapman, and seriously wounded the victims’ companion, Jussi Leino, who lived to tell the tale.

On the night of July 13, 1991, without apparent reason or provocation, Teehankee accosted the victims as they were on their way to the Hultman residence in Dasmarinas Village, Makati. He shot Chapman first and, as Maureen Hultman begged for mercy, shot her point-blank in the head. She went into a coma and never regained consciousness until her death months later.

Out of stupidity or arrogance or both, Teehankee, rumored to be a drug dependent, never even bothered to hide. He was quickly identified by witnesses, including Leino who miraculously survived despite a near-fatal head wound, and apprehended. Teehankee, affectionately known by family and friends as “Bobbin”, was convicted in December 1992 for the two killings and the frustrated murder of Leino. He had drawn a life term and two lesser sentences but was in jail for only 17 years.

Executive clemency is the constitutional power of the President to grant a commutation of sentence or a pardon following a criminal conviction. A pardon forgives an individual for the crime and the penalty associated with it while a commutation reduces the sentence for which a person is currently incarcerated. President Arroyo pardoned Teehankee.

To be sure, the power to grant clemency has ancient roots, deriving from the perceived divine right of kings to make acts of grace or mercy. Perhaps the most infamous act of clemency in history is that of Pontius Pilate, a Roman governor and effectively monarch of his assigned province, who pardoned a convicted criminal, Barabbas, and allowed Jesus to die on the cross.

But this presidential prerogative must be exercised with a modicum of wisdom, a proper sense of justice and sensitivity to the feelings of the victims’ families and public opinion. This GMA predictably failed or refused to consider. In view of the horribleness of the crime and seeming remorselessness of the perpetrator, her act is particularly infuriating.

Sure, Teehankee was supposed to have gotten time off for good behavior. But this could simply mean that his money and influence insulated him from the general run of the inmate population and got him perks from the jail administration. It doesn’t seem as if he has truly been “reformed”. From all accounts, Teehankee enjoyed extraordinary privileges while in prison, including a relatively plush private cell, as pictured in the Inquirer, complete with sexy pin-ups. Over the years, he has shown neither repentance or even guilt over the brutal slayings. He even reportedly joined a prison gang, the Genuine Ilocano, and lorded it over those less privileged than he.

There was certainly a lack of transparency in the entire process. Special Prosecutor Dennis Villa-Ignacio, who led the team that sent Teehankee to Muntinlupa, bewailed the absence of the requisite publication and notice to the victims’ families.

The Hultman family was understandably upset and incensed. Anders Hultman, Maureen’s adoptive father, said from their residence abroad:

According to the law, we should be advised. We were not notified. We learned (about the release) by friends in the Philippines who called us and sent emails to us. I’ve got so many emails the last couple of hours from the Philippines.

I think this (killer’s release) is a complete violation of the law. It’s unfortunate, I’m sorry to say, it’s corruption at the highest level of the country.

Vivian Hultman, Maureen’s mother, expressed shock at the news that Teehankee is now a free man.

All this news that they got today was so shocking to us. We’re paralyzed by the news that he (Teehankee) is already out. This is a disgrace to the Filipino nation. This is the highest form of injustice in the country and I’m really, really ashamed to be a Filipino.

Others condemned the precipitate pardon of Teehankee. Senate Majority Leader Francis Pangilinan described the release of Teehankee as “indicative of the state of our system of justice …, rotting away due to failed political leadership and governance.”

Opposition Sen. Panfilo Lacson accused President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of tipping the scales of justice in favor of “well-connected, influential and rich convicts” who, he said, are “apparently getting priority even in parole.”

But why should we be even surprised ? Arroyo has broken faith with us so many times before. She must think one more instance of kicking us in the balls to favor one of her loyalists will hardly matter. In this case it’s the convict’s brother, former Justice Undersecretary Manuel “Dondi” Teehankee, the presidential appointee to the World Trade Organization. Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales admitted to meeting with Atty. Teehankee a month ago to discuss his brother’s release. The latter was quoted in interviews as saying that his Kuya Bobbin has paid his debt to society and should therefore be pardoned.

The bottom line is that Arroyo, while appearing not to violate the letter of the law, certainly violated the spirit of the Constitution by her blatant abuse of her clemency powers. The executive privilege of forgiving criminals was originally intended to correct miscarriages of justice or to balance the scales to favor the downtrodden. Where is the injustice here, except that wrought against the victims and the public in general ? By the surreptitious and arbitrary exercise of her pardoning authority, she has further undermined the already eroded faith of our people in the criminal justice system. There’s a widespread sense of betrayal. But Arroyo simply doesn’t give a damn.

The Inquirer finds the president’s injudicious exercise of executive clemency unpardonable.

Why was Teehankee release kept a secret, asks Amado Doronila.

Prison chaplain says that 4,000 more prisoners are more worthy and qualified for release than Teehankee but only “qualipaid” prisoners are pardoned or their sentences commuted. He defined “qualipaid” convicts as those with sufficient money and connections to have their applications for clemency processed quickly, and said the term was “actually coined by prisoners who had grown tired of waiting for their pardon.”

4 thoughts on “Executive Clemency for Teehankee a Betrayal of Public Trust”

  1. I thought that one of the worst aspects of the release was the way that Raul Gonzalez called the Hultmans “hypocrites”, a perfect example of adding insult to injury.

    By coincidence, I am also dealing with the fallout from a violent and unprovoked attack at the moment (details on my blog). If you have any insights into how to deal with this I would be very grateful to hear them — as a foreigner here,I feel rather out of my depth.

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