POSTSCRIPT / September 27, 2007 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Was Erap told of legal conditions for pardon?

WAS HE TOLD?: Hearing former President Joseph “Erap” Estrada talk about a presidential pardon being offered to him, one wonders if he has been fully briefed by his lawyers and the emissaries of President Gloria Arroyo.

Erap and his lawyers have been quoted as saying that they would file (they did) with the Sandiganbayan a motion for reconsideration of his plunder conviction and that they could easily withdraw the motion once pardon was granted.

After he and Interior and Local Government Secretary Ronaldo Puno failed last Tuesday to agree on the terms of a presidential pardon, Erap said that their lawyers would just work out the details.

Was Erap told that pardon without final conviction may be difficult to work out?

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HE FORGOT?: Former Chief Justice Andres Narvasa, one of the big guns in Erap’s battery of lawyers, should tell his client that he signed on July 30, 1996, a concurring opinion to a Supreme Court ruling reiterating that pardon cannot be validly granted while a convict’s case is on appeal.

Narvasa concurred together with Justices Jose Melo, Ricardo Francisco and Artemio Panganiban. The resolution (G.R. No. 116512) was penned by then Justice Hilario Davide Jr., who later became Chief Justice like his successor Panganiban.

The text and temper of the ruling show the clear position of the Court against pardon being granted while the conviction is on appeal.

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CHRONOLOGY: In the case cited, William Casido, Franklin Alcorin and another accused were convicted for murder by the Regional Trial Court of Negros Oriental on Dec. 1, 1993. They were sentenced to reclusion perpetua and ordered to pay damages.

An abbreviated choronology of later events:

* Dec. 7, 1994 — the Supreme Court received a supplemental appeal from Casido and Alcorin.

* Jan. 11, 1996 — the appellants filed an urgent motion to withdraw their appeal, but did not give a reason. The Court required their lawyer on Feb. 28, 1996, to comment on the motion.

* March 22, 1996 — the Court received an indorsement dated March 18, 1996, from Superintendent Venancio J. Tesoro of the Bureau of Corrections, saying that Casido and Alcorin “were released on conditional pardon on Jan. 25, 1996.”

* June 14, 1996 — Tesoro submitted certified true copies of the conditional pardons signed by President Fidel Ramos on Jan. 19, 1996, and of their certificates of discharge from prison on Jan. 25, 1996.

(Mr. Ramos must have signed the papers by mistake or his “complete staff work” failed him, because he was saying just days ago that pardon was not allowed while an appeal was pending. Even a law dropout like me knows that, he said in a light vein. — fdp)

* * *

GIST OF RULING: In denying the withdrawal of the appeal, the Court said (lightly edited for brevity):

“In the Resolution of Jan. 31, 1995, in People vs. Hinlo, this Court categorically declared the ‘practice of processing applications for pardon or parole despite pending appeals’ to be ‘in clear violation of law.’

“In Our resolution of March 21, 1991, in People vs. Sepada, this Court signified in no uncertain terms the necessity of a final judgment before parole or pardon could be extended.

“Having observed that the pronouncements in the aforementioned cases remain unheeded, either through deliberate disregard or erroneous applications of the obiter dictum in Monsato vs. Factoran or the ruling in People vs. Crisola, this Court, in its resolution of Dec. 4, 1995, in People vs. Salle, explicitly declared:

‘We now declare that the ‘conviction by final judgment’ limitation under Section 19, Article VII, of the Constitution prohibits the grant of pardon, whether full or conditional, to an accused during the pendency of his appeal from his conviction by the trial court. Any application therefor, if one is made, should not be acted upon or the process towards its grant should not be begun unless the appeal is withdrawn. Accordingly, the agencies or instrumentalities of the Government concerned must require proof from the accused that he has not appealed from his conviction or that he has withdrawn his appeal. Such proof may be in the form of a certification issued by the trial court or the appellate court, as the case may be. The acceptance of the pardon shall not operate as an abandonment or waiver of the appeal, and the release of an accused by virtue of a pardon, commutation of sentence, or parole before the withdrawal of an appeal shall render those responsible therefor administratively liable. Accordingly, those in custody of the accused must not solely rely on the pardon as a basis for the release of the accused from confinement.’ xxx

“This rule shall fully bind pardons extended after Jan. 31, 1995, during the pendency of the grantee’s appeal. The conditional pardons granted to Casido and Alcorin are void for having been extended on Jan. 19, 1996, during the pendency of their appeal.”

* * *

SEQUENCE: The Supreme Court then ordered the Bureau of Corrections to re-arrest the duo, throw them back to prison within 60 days and to submit a report.

The Court also required the officers of the Presidential Committee for the Grant of Bail, Release, and Pardon to show in 30 days why they should not be held in contempt of court.

Remember, Section 19 of Article VII (Executive Department) of the charter says: “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.”

It is clear that there is a sequence that must be followed.

If Erap wants pardon, he must first withdraw his motion for reconsideration (or appeal), so his conviction will become final. He cannot receive pardon first and then withdraw his motion for reconsideration (or an appeal with the Supreme Court).

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of September 27, 2007)

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