Absolute? Absolutely!

Pardon is the total extinction of the criminal liability of the recipient to whom it is granted without any condition. Except for a few cases listed under the Constitution, the President can exercise this power of executive clemency. Jurisprudence has established that this pardoning power is exercised as an act of grace and humanity in proper cases, without such a power of clemency, “a country would be most imperfect and deficient in its political morality and in that attribute of deity whose judgments are always tempered with mercy.” The grant of pardon is therefore premised on the valid assumption that there are imperfections in any justice system.

In a speech last week, President Duterte unequivocally declared that (translated from Bisaya) “the power to commute and to pardon is absolute. May discretion lang. The people I grant pardon to is my responsibility (sic). You do not question because the Constitution says it is an absolute power. It doesn’t involve the Congress. That’s mine alone.” Note that Art. VII, Sec. 19 of our Constitution provides for some limitations whereby the President cannot exercise this pardoning power in impeachment and election cases. Further, pardon cannot be applied if the conviction is not yet final, and, more importantly, it is subject to judicial review. As such, pardons are theoretically reversible but only by the Supreme Court. Hence, this presidential discretion as to how and why is never absolute, contrary to the statement of President Duterte.

According to the Supreme Court, in the case of Monsanto v. Factoran Jr., “the very essence of pardon is forgiveness or remission of guilt.” Pardon does not erase the fact of the commission of the crime and does not wash out the moral stain. “It involves forgiveness and not forgetfulness.” Thus, when President Duterte granted pardon to US Marine corporal Pemberton, he simply exercised a presidential prerogative as legitimately conferred upon him by the Constitution. As long as the legal requisites are present and the constitutional limitations are observed, his wisdom to forgive is beyond scrutiny. He does not even have to expound on the reasons for such pardon as the matter often comes down to having connections to the right people or those whose release fits into a strategic political agenda. As a pardon is not retrospective, it makes no amends for the past and affords no relief for the offender. Some may share the anguish of the Laude family but that is how pardon is carried out in our Constitution. It does not impose upon the government any obligation to make reparation for it is assumed that the judicial body has taken care of such amends.

In contrast, the kind of pardon given to us by our Almighty God is very different. From what I understand, God freely pardons us, not based on who we know or if we fit into a hidden agenda. His pardon is absolutely, without limitation, dependent solely on His abundant mercy and grace. Widely known as the “Prince of Preachers,” Charles Spurgeon considered God as “ready to pardon.” He said that our Almighty God is not one who may possibly pardon and not one who may be convinced to pardon due to strong persuasion. Believers are fortunate to have a God “ready to pardon,” who is more than willing-ready, and just “waiting to be gracious.”

For those who criticize the Pemberton pardon, we have to remember that the President’s prerogative to pardon a convicted murderer need not be explained. While there can be some political considerations not known to the public, we need to respect this grant of executive clemency. It might look unfair as some sectors are now calling for the release of General Jovito Palparan and other high profile convicts. In the Bible, Isaiah 55:7 tells us, “Let the wicked forsake their ways and the unrighteous their thoughts. Let them turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on them, and to our God, for he will freely pardon.” Those who ask for pardon but in return show apostasy and rebellion may find difficulty to receive God’s grace unless their hearts reflect genuine repentance and humility. Charles Spurgeon said, “The Lord’s readiness to pardon is very conspicuous to sinners, because he sends his message of love to them while they are yet in their sins. He presents perfect pardon through Jesus Christ to them, even while they are sinners, for “Christ died for the ungodly.”

So, whenever a pardon is given by any President, it is never absolute. The power as well as the effects are not absolute as they seem. Whereas, whenever a pardon is given by our Almighty God, it is always absolute. Grace undeserved, our offenses are forgiven and forgotten, absolutely!

A former infantry and intelligence officer in the Army, Siegfred Mison showcased his servant leadership philosophy in organizations such as the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, Malcolm Law Offices, Infogix Inc., University of the East, Bureau of Immigration, and Philippine Airlines. He is a graduate of West Point in New York, Ateneo Law School, and University of Southern California. A corporate lawyer by profession, he is an inspirational teacher and a Spirit-filled writer with a mission.

For questions and comments, please e-mail me at sbmison@gmail.com.

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