The President’s pardoning Claudio Teehankee Jr. seems to have caused great offense. And yet first of all, it is an act that is irreversible. It is also an act that represents a net gain, politically, for the President regardless of its effects on public opinion.
If it is true, as the Justice Secretary claims, that the pardon was granted essentially upon the request of the convict’s brother, the President’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Manuel Teehankee, then the political context of the pardon becomes clear. Ambassador Teehankee has been a close and valued subordinate of the President, previously floated as a potential successor to the present Justice Secretary. The ambassador and his family also surely knew that they had a bigger chance of securing executive clemency now, than at any time previously or in the future: it involves a crime which accords absolutely no mitigating circumstances for the convict.
The Catholic hierarchy, too, is bound to the Church’s position of opposing the death penalty, and so cannot take the case too far -it would risk reopening the death penalty debate. The Church is too invested in opposing the Reproductive Health Bill, counts too much on the President being their ultimate bulwark in terms of exercising her veto power, not to mention doing her part to mobilize opposition to the bill in Congress.
The law-and-order types are also politically negligible now or in the near term. They failed to elect a law-and-order candidate for the presidency; they are not mobilized in Congress, on the local level, and will not be a swing vote in the Palace’s political projects: passing the 2009 budget and amending the Constitution.
The upper and middle classes will vent their spleen but nothing shows that they will divorce themselves from the President between now and 2010 (and who knows, even beyond). Those from these classes too stupid to have stayed out of jail in the first place can celebrate the release of Teehankee as a sign of potential presidential favors to come.
The poor, more often than not unjustly imprisoned, will continue to clamor for executive clemency and be supported in their appeals by the clergy.
So she pleases a subordinate she holds in high regard; she proves to her supporters up and down the line that she will bail them out; she knows sectors like the Church need her now more than ever, and those against her move have been against her anyway.
And public opinion? This, too, shall pass.