Tuesday, April 18, 2006
'No-death' policy to benefit Chiong 5
'No one will be executed during the term of President Arroyo' --- Justice Secretary Raul Gonzales

* But Palace says it won't bear on Congress to abrogate death penalty
* Commutation of death sentence to life imprisonment applies only to cases reviewed and upheld by Supreme Court, which includes the five Chiong accused on death row
* Once commuted, life imprisonment can further lead to pardon or parole, which Mrs. Thelma Chiong does not want for the Chiong accused
* Death penalty stays until abrogated by Congress
* Thelma Chiong, head of the Crusade Against Violence and the mother of the Chiong sisters, says she had expected the president's new policy statement

        THE five men sentenced to death by the Supreme Court (SC) in the 1997 Chiong rape and murder case will be covered by President Arroyo’s policy statement commuting all final and executory death sentences to a life term.  

      And, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez said in an interview yesterday, the convicts will be eligible for parole once they begin serving their new penalties, albeit they still need to petition for coverage.  

      “(Granting it) is a presidential prerogative. The President may grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons, and remit fines and forfeitures, after conviction by final judgment under Article 7, Section 19 of the Constitution,” Gonzalez said.

      “No one will be executed during the term of President Arroyo,” he added.

Final judgment
      Amid the fuss the new policy has created, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye clarified that the commutation only applies to death sentences that are already final in judgment, whether those convicted are for crimes of kidnap-for-ransom or terrorism.

      When asked what he thought the private complainants—both in the Chiong case and in all other cases where a death row conviction has been secured—would feel, Gonzalez replied: “We cannot please everybody.”

      What could make things worse for the complainants is the fact that the policy is part of the President’s prerogative under the Constitution.

      “For the victims it’s extremely difficult but that’s the way democracy works,” said former governor Pablo Garcia, who filed the first bill to restore the death penalty in 1987. It was frozen in the Senate, but he filed another and fought hard for it until its approval in 1995.

      Garcia also said there are no legal options available to those who are against Arroyo’s decision.

      “Nobody can question the priorities of the President to commute or pardon,” said Garcia, adding that the President may change her mind later on and impose death especially for drug-related cases.

      While death row inmates rejoiced over the President’s Easter announcement, it shocked families of crime victims who cited the resurgence of kidnappings.

CHIONG 7. Review of the cases against the seven Chiong suspects have long been concluded by the Supreme Court and death sentence against five of them has been upheld. The five on death row are (standing third from left) Ariel Balansag, Albert Cano, Rowen Adlawan, Josman Aznar, and Francisco Juan Larrañaga. The brothers James Anthony and James Andrew Uy (first and second from left) were spared of the death sentence because of their minority. 
      (SUN*STAR FILE) 

      Teresita Ang-See, leader of a nongovernment group against crime, said the decision is “the height of insensitivity and callousness.”

      In a separate interview, Thelma Chiong, head of the Crusade Against Violence and the mother of the Chiong sisters, said she’d expected the President’s new policy statement.

      Although she lamented how there was no public hearing or consultation prior, she said the President telegraphed her intentions when she announced, at the start of her term, that she wasn’t enforcing the Death Penalty Law.

      Still, hearing the pronouncement on national television had a jarring effect.

      “She could have just let things be and granted a reprieve (of the execution). Much worse, she announced it during Holy Week,” she said, adding that by carefully phrasing her words, the President made it appear that all those who support death penalty are un-Christian.

Parole, pardon
      Chiong hopes the President will withhold exercising her parole or pardon powers against those who will avail themselves of the commutation of sentences.

      In the Chiong case, the conviction was originally handed down by the late judge Martin Ocampo against Francisco Juan “Paco” Larrañaga, Josman Aznar, Rowen Adlawan, Alberto Caño, Ariel Balansag and brothers James Anthony and James Andrew Uy.

      The ruling has been reviewed and upheld by the SC which, in an order last year, ruled that Larrañaga, Aznar, Adlawan, Caño and Balansag be sentenced to death.

      The Yu brothers got a lower penalty for being minors at the time of the alleged crime.

      And, after an en banc decision that rejected a motion for reconsideration as a “mere rehash” of the arguments already “considered, weighed, and resolved,” the ruling became final and executory.

      Incidentally, while the entry of judgment gave the go signal for the execution of all the accused, it is this, with the President’s new policy statement, that entitles the accused to avail themselves of the commutation.

      “The new policy does not automatically affect all those people now on death row. Although this is a policy statement, this will be carried out on an individual basis. As soon as a judgment becomes final and executory, it will now be commuted,” Gonzalez explained.

      The new policy, he added, does not affect the validity of the Death Penalty Law though.

      He explained that the courts are not precluded from sentencing a criminal to death.

      He said the President, through her policy statement, is just exercising her prerogatives granted by law. (KNR/JPM)

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