MANILA, Oct. 25, 2012— President Benigno Aquino III should not wait for more convicts to die in prison before they could breathe the air of freedom, Catholic Church officials said.
For the officials of the Church’s prison ministry, Aquino holds the record of being “too slow” in granting executive clemency to criminals compared with the past administrations.
“Our observation with the current administration is that it’s too close-fisted in granting parole or executive clemency,” said Puerto Princesa Bishop Pedro Arigo said.
Arigo is the vice chairman of the Episcopal Commission on Prison Pastoral Care (ECPPC) of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP).
He said it is about time for the President to give attention to “common prisoners” languishing in jails for a long time.
“In the national penitentiary, some inmates are already around 80 years old while others are already in wheelchairs. For humanitarian reason, I think they should be granted clemency,” Arigo said.
The bishop made the statement as the Church marks the yearly Prison Awareness Week.
Rodolfo Diamante, ECPPC executive secretary, noted there are about 96,000 inmates across the country with hundreds already recommended by the Board of Pardons and Parole (BPP) for amnesty.
“We are just hoping that those who are already 70 years old and above be granted executive clemency,” Diamante said.
Last December, Aquino said the government is reviewing the guidelines for executive clemency, which includes the granting of presidential pardon to convicts.
Aquino said he wants the system reviewed because he has qualms about granting pardon to those convicted of crimes such as rape and drug pushing.
But the CBCP official said it seems that Aquino needs to be careful because the guidelines he set is “very difficult to follow.”
“The guidelines that he wants are very retributive and past-oriented. I hope the Office of the President will review it again to make it more rehabilitation-driven in granting executive clemency,” Diamante said.
In July 2011, Aquino’s beneficiary of his first and only ever pardon, Mariano Umbrero, succumbed to cancer four days before he was granted presidential clemency.
“It’s been two years of the Aquino presidency but until now no one was granted executive clemency (aside from Umbrero),” he said.
Monsignor Bobby Olaguer, chaplain at the National Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa City, is also saddened for the old and terminally ill prisoners who are still suffering behind bars.
“I don’t know his (Aquino’s) reasons… maybe he really wants extreme justice… to the limit. There’s no mercy,” Olaguer lamented. (RL/CBCPNews)