Pardoning Romeo

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About convicted criminals there are two attitudes–or schools of thought, if you will. One is focused on retribution, the other on rehabilitation.

The retribution crowd we’re all familiar with. They cheer whenever anyone’s sentenced to death; they campaigned for the death penalty, and they’d like the list of “heinous crimes” lengthened so more people can be executed. They want those on death row to walk the last mile to the lethal injection chamber ASAP. In public forums they will ask those opposed to the death penalty how they would feel if it were a member of their family who had been killed, kidnapped or raped. They think once a criminal always a criminal.

Those who believe in rehabilitation oppose the death penalty. They want prison to be an opportunity for the convicted to reform so they can return to society as productive individuals. They don’t think harsher penalties will deter crime, but that the equal application of the law will. They think that in most cases criminals can be reformed.

Even among the latter group, however, the jury is still out about a particularly problematic breed of criminal–the sex offender, or, as they put it in the United States, among other countries, the sexual predator. Mainly the question is whether these predators–child molesters and rapists, teen rapists, and plain rapists–can be rehabilitated.

Numerous studies in the United States suggest that a high percentage of sexual predators are repeat offenders, with child molesters and child rapists heading the list.

In one study it was found that child molesters were more likely to be aroused by children rather than by adults–an abnormal sexual preference psychologists say makes repeat offenses likely. As they put it, “deviant sexual interests are important risk factors for sexual recidivism.”

So persuasive have some of the studies been that the US state of California has a hospitalization program for sexual predators–after they have served their prison terms. In effect the program lengthens the offender’s captivity, but the fear of repeat offenses is such that despite this and its costs, the program is still in place.

Although not the only thing to consider, the question of whether he’s likely to do it again is nevertheless at issue in the case of former Congressman Romeo Jalosjos should he be pardoned.

A presidential pardon is an option the Arroyo administration has floated recently through Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez. Jalosjos, who’s 65, is ailing, says Gonzalez, in fact has had a stroke (the ailment of which Fernando Poe Jr. died, in case some of you out there have forgotten), and “humanitarian reasons” suggest that he be released so be won’t die in prison.

Whether Jalosjos will repeat the offense once released–he was convicted of raping an 11-year old child, a crime for which to this day he has expressed no repentance, insisting that she was, anyway, a prostitute–depends on a number of factors. Although it’s been argued that child molesters have also been known to use sticks and bottles on their victims, it has been established that age, naturally, is a crucial element in repeat offenses.

Among sexual predators in the United States a decline in the sex drive was reported among men aged 70 and over, for example. This finding, however, could suggest that the deviant preferences of sexual offenders actually prolongs the sex drive.

Our Romeo, of course, is not yet 70, which suggests that he has all of five years in which, once released, he can either abandon his preference for overly-youthful partners or continue to pursue it. Of equal importance, studies in the United States have found, is the “low self-control factor.” This refers to offenders’ being tempted to repeat the offense without regard for the consequences, even if they know that there could be such consequences as being arrested, tried, convicted and returned to prison.

Now come the political and social conditions relating to our Romeo. The law says Jalosjos does not yet qualify for a pardon, not having served the minimum prison term. Secretary Gonzalez, however, says it’s ultimately the President’s decision, if she wants to make an exception, in view of Jalosjos’ health problems. Gonzalez has also admitted that such an exception could be political, as most pardons, he insists, are.

Although he’s not saying, the political part of it is that Jalosjos supposedly delivered enough votes from Zamboanga to enable President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to allegedly win over Fernando Poe Jr. last May 10 to the tune of some 100,000 votes.

A pardon for Jalosjos would thus be a political act, with all its attendant implications on the injustice of the so-called justice system. There’s also a rumored resolution supposedly signed by 50 of his former colleagues in the House urging Mrs. Arroyo to pardon him in addition to Gonzalez’ advocacy of that option. By virtue of his political clout, a pardon would announce to one and all, Jalosjos would be released, in contrast to, say, Mang Fulano de Tal, a Tondo scavenger who raped a neighbor’s child, and who, at the same age as Jalosjos, is similarly ailing.

As critical a message as this would send about that by now well-known fact, the Philippine double standard, it would send an even more critical message to others with the same clout, not to mention Jalosjos himself. It is the message of impunity: that raping a child will get you only a few years in prison at most (and by the way in the most comfortable of conditions).

This is the very same message the injustice system has been sending well-connected kidnappers, murderers, smugglers, and the killers of journalists. Just as their continuing impunity has convinced these criminals that they can commit whatever atrocity they want at minimal or no risk of being punished for it, it would similarly convince well-connected predators that they can indulge their preferences at hardly any risk to their lives and liberties.

The argument that Romeo Jalosjos is ill and deserves to be pardoned appeals to our best humanitarian impulses, and would be a worthy one if it were to be equally raised in the cases of the thousands of others similarly ailing and aged, but who are not as well-connected.

In this particular case the argument has been and is being distorted. It is the poor and the ignorant who most of all deserve leniency and compassion, for the darkness and brutality of the lives they have had to cope with. No circumstances such as poverty or lack of education drove Jalosjos to commit the crime of which he was convicted, unlike his poorer brethren–in whose behalf, in fact, the humanitarian argument would be more justly raised.

Among the poor convicted of sexual offenses, after all, are any number of individuals who could not afford lawyers, and whose guilt can thus be questioned. In Jalosjos’ case, however, we have someone who had access to the best defense, and who, it has long been evident, has been treated with exceptional consideration by the prison system.

In addition, there is no indication whatsoever that Jalosjos has had enough insight into his crime to recognize it for what it was. Instead, his most recent statement makes him out to be the victim, refers to his “tribulations,” and states that those instrumental in his imprisonment would be subject to God’s judgment. And yet repentance is a key factor in determining whether an offender is likely to spend his time in freedom living “a productive life” while regretting his offense– or to repeat it because he doesn’t consider it a crime, and in any event can get away with it.

(Today/abs-cbnNEWS.com)

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