Heart over the law: a year in review
In Palau’s justice system, the heart wins over the law.
The country’s justice system had been marred by controversies as conflicting stance, or actions, on certain government policies seemed to rumble with each other especially in the talks of zero tolerance policy against illegal drugs.
No less than President Tommy Remengesau, Jr. himself reflected this scenario when he said that the government’s zero tolerance policy does not mean having no compassion.
“Zero-tolerance doesn’t mean that it will erase your right to have compassion or to forgive toward giving an opportunity for a second chance in life. That is a mekreos el klisiich (power not easily conferred) that the framers of the constitution enshrined in Palau constitution to give the opportunity for the president to grant pardon to those who can change and be given another start in life,” Remengesau previously said. Skeptics, however, frowned upon this statement as they believed that other political factors were at play.
If President Remengesau called that compassion, Vice President and Justice Minister Raynold Oilouch had another name for it – leniency.
As a government official tasked to oversee the Ministry of Justice, Oilouch had been very vocal about the administration’s zero tolerance policy against illegal drugs. Remengesau, too, had been very vocal about it. In fact, both leaders had publicly expressed their disappointment when the court made a plea agreement on one of the most celebrated drug trafficking cases in Palau involving DHL Heir Larry Imeong Hillbroom. Although Remengesau acknowledged the independence of the judiciary, he said that there should be discussion about the issue.
“I agree with Vice President Oilouch in his letter to Judiciary regarding use of strong penalties in drug convictions. I totally support him on this,” Remengesau was previously quoted in his reaction to the court’s handling of Hillbroom’s case. But this did not last long however as both leaders found their ways on opposing ends when faced with the same issue involving a different case.
Oilouch previously urged the court to support the government’s war against illegal drugs by ensuring that convicted criminals received the punishments they deserved. In a letter to Chief Justice Arthur Ngiraklsong on May 21, 2018, Oilouch let out his disappointments in the sentencing of some of the drug-trafficking-related cases which he described to have “appear to be too lenient.”
Oilouch previously noted that many convicted criminals had been simply given probation and only served minimal prison terms which resulted into them being released back to the community where they, very often, head back to dealing with illicit drugs.
Not soon after, the government had been put in question again when Remengesau granted full pardon to drug convict Kalingo Kangich in October. This time, however, Oilouch and the Attorney General Ernestine Rengiil had stick to the government’s policy against illegal drugs by recommending to deny Kangich’s pardon petition.
Kangich previously sought full pardon of his conviction, saying that he wants to serve the community of the Peleliu State by running for a position in the 13th Peleliu State General Election. He did not win the polls however.
Remengesau explained that his decision to grant the pardon was based on strong recommendations by the Palau National Parole Board and Peleliu State Governor Temmy Shmull who cited positive changes in Kangich’s life. But despite all the explaining Remengesau did, many remained unconvinced.
“The question that we should all ask is when is the right timing to do this pardon? A person who deserve pardon,” Remengesau posted the question in response to the criticisms he faced. As such, we hurl this question back to you. When, indeed, is the right timing to give pardon and who deserves it? In the matters of giving justice, which shall really have more weight? The law or the heart? We will leave for you to decide. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)