The grant by President Duterte of an absolute and unconditional pardon to movie actor Robin Padilla this week has gotten a lot of media space, not surprisingly because the grantee is a box- office celebrity and entertainer.
Instead of milking the event for publicity, the Palace and the media would do better to explain to the public the reasons for the pardon, and the nature of the presidential pardon power.
That power is embodied in Sec. 19, Article VII of the Constitution, which reads:
“Except in cases of impeachment, or as otherwise provided in this Constitution, the president may grant reprieves, commutations, and pardons, and remit fines and forfeitures, after conviction by final judgment.
“He shall also have the power to grant amnesty with the concurrence of a majority of all the members of the Congress.”
There’s a reason why pardon and amnesty are mentioned in the same article. The Charter framers meant to draw a distinction between the two. Amnesty overlooks the offense, while pardon remits [cancels]the punishment.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre was guilty of hyperbole when he said in a comment on the Padilla pardon:
“The power of the President to extend pardon or parole to any convicted person is absolute… nobody can question it,” he said.
The power is not absolute. According to the Constitution framer and author Jose N. Nolledo, the presidential grant of reprieves, commutations, and pardons, and remittance of fines and forfeitures, is subject to the following qualifications:
Such pardoning power does not extend to and cannot cover cases of impeachment.
No pardon, amnesty, parole or suspension of sentence for violation of election laws, rules and regulations shall
be granted by the president without the favorable recommendation of the Commission on Elections.
To these two, we add the prohibition on granting pardons as a quid pro quo — as a compensation for something. This has been raised in regard to the Padilla pardon, because of what the actor did for DU30’s election campaign.
Generally, our presidents have normally not been challenged on their exercise of the pardoning power.
In the United States, several presidents have gotten into trouble for granting pardons under questionable circumstances and on dubious grounds, as when President Gerald Ford pardoned President Richard Nixon for his Watergate transgressions, immediately after he was sworn to office.
The broad rationale for the pardon power has been stated by no less than the US Supreme Court: “The pardon power is granted [t]o the [president]. . ., and it is granted without limit’’ (United States v. Klein). Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes declared that ‘’[a]pardon . . . is . . . the determination of the ultimate authority that the public welfare will be better served by [the pardon]. . .’’
A president may conclude a pardon or commutation is warranted for several reasons: the desire to restore full citizenship rights, including voting, to people who have served their sentences and lived within the law since; a belief that a sentence was excessive or unjust; personal circumstances that warrant compassion; or other unique circumstances.
It is in this light that the public should understand the pardon for Padilla.
The absolute pardon was designed to restore Padilla’s civil and political rights, which means he may now run for public office, exercise his right to vote, and can be appointed to public office.