PHILIPPINES: Activist priest hits neglect of ‘Abadilla Five’ as other convicted prisoners released

(Hong Kong, April 6, 2009) A Catholic priest, Fr. Roberto Reyes, who had been campaigning for the release of the Abadilla Five, has criticised as “wrong” the pardon and subsequent release of three convicts, while the Abadilla Five case continues to suffer prolonged delay. 

Those already released after the commutation of their prison terms and granting of presidential pardon were Claudio Teehankee Jr., son of a former Philippine Supreme Court Chief Justice convicted for murdering two person; Romeo Jalosjos, a former member of Congress convicted for raping a girl; and Rodolfo Manalili, a businessman convicted for murdering a man and his girlfriend. 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has expressed concerns on this scenario and shares the observations made by Fr. Reyes. 

It is true that President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, has the authority to commute and grant pardon as it is a power of the Executive vested in her, but exercising this power only for the benefit of ‘selected few’ casts serious doubts as to whether it has been for the ‘common good’; and not purely for ‘political gain’. 

“This power may not be questioned, but there is no amount of justifications that could be made to convince the people and to ease their questioning because anybody, not only Filipinos, knew there is something wrong with it,” said Moon Jeong Ho, AHRC Urgent Appeals coordinator. 

Prior to the releases of these convicted prisoners, similar commutation and releases of influential and wealthy persons had also taken place. One of whom was former Philippine president Joseph Estrada. He was released on a presidential pardon within a short period after being convicted for plunder. 

But unlike the Abadilla Five, who are ordinary persons, like other thousands of prisoners that left to rot in jail–either due to delays of their cases in court or for lack of any influence to secure their release–those who had been released belong to those known as ‘powerful and influential’ persons in the Philippine society. “This is what makes it questionable”, added Moon. 

Thus, the exercise of power to commute sentences and grant pardons, as already been seen in these cases, had reaffirmed and perpetuated what has already been a common knowledge, that the notion of ‘equality before the law’ is lacking in the country’s system of justice; and that law is applied to benefit a selected few. 

As what Fr. Reyes rightly pointed out in his article below, the Abadilla Five detainees does not want presidential “pardon but JUSTICE”. Their Petition for Certiorari, which sought to declare a Court of Appeals (CA) decision, convicting them for the murder of Rolando Abadilla in June 1996, remains pending before the Supreme Court (SC) since it was filed in May 2008. 

The five detainees neither want to have their prison sentence commuted nor granted a presidential pardon, but rather for the SC to have their case concluded–to which the latter has continuously failed to do. 

The full text of Fr. Roberto’s statement is below:

What is Wrong when Convicted Killers are Pardoned while Fall Guys Rot?

First it was Teehankee, then Jalosjos. Now it is Manalilli. Two convicted murderers and a rapist are now free while fall guys like Cesar Fortuna; Rameses de Jesus; Leonido Lumanog; Joel de Jesus and Augusto Santos, popularly known as the Abadilla 5 are about to complete thirteen years of imprisonment for a crime they never committed. Claudio Teehankee Jr. was convicted beyond doubt for the double murder of Maureen Hultman and Roland John Chapman. Romeo Jalosjos was convicted beyond doubt for raping an 11 year old girl. Rodolfo M. Manalili was also convicted beyond reasonable doubt for masterminding the murder of Ernesto “Cochise” Bernabe II and his girlfriend Ana Lurdes “Beebom” Castanos. 

While the Board of Pardons has recommended clemency for the above criminals according to the strict parameters of the law, the public is still scandalized and suspicious of how and why decisions like this happen while certain cases seem to drag forever in spite of solid evidences proving the innocence of wrongly convicted men. 

Recently, the surviving members of the Aquino-Galman were finally released. These men have spent more than twenty years in jail claiming innocence and pointing to a mastermind who was never hailed to court. Manalili was not the triggerman but the convicted mastermind of a crime which turned out to be a fatal mistaken identity. Even if Manalili’s men failed to kill his desired victim, he and his triggermen went to jail all the same. In the Aquino-Galman case, a double doubt remains whether those who served sentence and were recently released were truly guilty and who really ordered and masterminded the murder of Ninoy. 

So now convicted criminals are pardoned and masterminds are still on the loose while the Abadilla 5 continue to fight for their innocence. Will they also have to wait until they are old and sick like those accused for the Aquino-Galman murders and “qualified for pardon?” It is not pardon that they need but JUSTICE. And this is also why people are scandalized at the series of pardons granted by Malacanang. Those pardoned are rich and powerful, the poor take quite a while, a long, long while to be noticed. 

Could people be blamed when they begin to surmise that Teehankee; Jalosjos and Manalili are now free because of name, money and connection? Is this then what the Philippine Justice System stands for? Is Justice in the Philippines no more than a matter of name, money and connection? I pray and hope not. I need not plead with the justices of the Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Reynato Puno to do their sacred and solemnly sworn duty to God and their people. 

Fr. Roberto P. Reyes 
Asian Human Rights Commission, 
Hong Kong 
April 3, 2009 

Document Type : Press Release
Document ID : AHRC-PRL-021-2009
Countries : Philippines,
Campaigns : Abadilla 5