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In a leading case, our Supreme Court (SC) resigned to the effects of absolute pardon granted by the president to one found guilty – “it releases the punishment and blots out the existence of guilt, so that in the eyes of the law, the offender is as innocent as if he never committed the offense.” The SC went on to opine on what remains to be the penalty of the pardoned. It said that pardon “cannot bring back lost reputation for honesty, integrity and fair dealing.” How so untrue this is when you talk about Philippine politics.
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Back to plunder. Only the president can control the extent of his pardon. He could pardon out of mercy and say the public official pardoned cannot run for or hold public office anymore. There is no legal basis, however, to compel the pardoning president to qualify his pardon.
What could be demanded, though, is for the pardoned public official to return all the money he amassed through plunder. The Constitution gave the president giving the pardon the power to “remit fines and forfeitures.” In other words, to condone penalties, do not to allow the pardoned public official to keep what he stole. Thus, the people have the right to demand full transparency and accounting on this civil aspect.
Any president, with all his pardon powers, can liberate the criminal from jail time, and even allow him to run again for public office, sad as it may be. But the president must see to it that at least, all that was plundered is recovered. This is not penalty. This is returning money stolen from the people. To allow the pardoned to keep what he stole is to penalize hapless Filipino citizens so that a criminal can enjoy the fruits of his crime. A grave injustice that can make pardon a darker crime than plunder itself.
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Alexander B. Cabrera is the chairman and senior partner of Isla Lipana & Co./PwC Philippines. He also chairs the Tax Committee of the Management Association of the Philippines (MAP). Email your comments and questions to aseasyasABC@ph.pwc.com. This content is for general information purposes only, and should not be used as a substitute for consultation with professional advisors.
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