President Rodrigo Duterte may only issue an executive clemency after a person has been found guilty, the Department of Justice said Sunday.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra made the statement after Duterte said he had forgiven Philippine National Police Chief Debold Sinas for holding a mañanita birthday party during Metro Manila's lockdown.
"The DOJ/prosecutor has to complete the process of preliminary investigation. Executive clemency may come only after a finding of guilt. If there's no finding of guilt, there's no room for the application of executive clemency," Guevarra said.
The President is "very much aware" that a case against Sinas remains pending and is "merely indicating his intent to act with liberality, in consideration of General Sinas’ overall performance as a career police officer," Guevarra said.
"I didn't hear what the President said exactly. I need to know the context, but whatever it was that the President said about his intent to pardon General Sinas, the DOJ will do what it is duty-bound to do, and the President may also do what he is constitutionally authorized to do."
Duterte on Saturday cleared Sinas of violation of rules months after his highly-criticized birthday mañanita, where more than a dozen visitors attended despite the lockdown restrictions.
"This is my call. I take full responsibility but I also guarantee his [Sinas’] competence and expertise in police work,” Duterte said in a recorded message.
He said it was not Sinas' fault that his colleagues decided to surprise him. For him, Sinas was as good as pardoned.
"His colleagues went because it was a mañanita and the man did not know, it's not as if he could turn them away," Duterte said.
In May, Sinas drew public ire over the mañanita, or pre-dawn birthday serenade, in Camp Bagong Diwa in Taguig City that allegedly violated the 10-people limit on gatherings to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Guevarra had confirmed that two separate complaints were filed against Sinas over the incident, one in Taguig by the police and another by the National Bureau of Investigation.
Despite that controversy and allegations of abuses when he headed the Central Visayas police, Sinas was chosen by Duterte as PNP chief on Nov. 10, replacing Gen. Camilo Cascolan who had reached the mandatory retirement age.