Judicial independence in Trillanes case

When President Duterte issued  Proclamation No.572, he cited as the reason for  revoking the amnesty granted to Senator Trillanes it (the amnesty) being void ab initio on the ground that the latter did not comply with the “minimum requirements to qualify under the amnesty proclamation.” The Proclamation cited a certification from the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel that there is no available copy of Trillanes’ application for amnesty, and that he refused to admit his guilt.

Subsequently, Senator Trillanes has conclusively proven that he has in fact submitted an application and admitted guilt. Among others, the senator submitted affidavits of former defense amnesty panel chair Honorio Azcueta and head of the amnesty panel secretariat Josefa Berbigal to this effect, with the latter attesting that she personally received Trillanes’ amnesty application on 5 January 2011. In rejecting these affidavits and issuing a warrant of arrest against Senator Trillanes, Judge Elmo Alameda of Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150 said that his failure to produce an original copy or “even a photocopy” of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s actual amnesty application form is sufficient basis to say he really failed to file it. Judge Alameda reasoned that Berbigal’s affidavit and similar supporting affidavits are “substitute documents” that are “barren of probative weight.”

The same issue is now before Judge Andres Soriano of RTC Branch 148, also of Makati City. Thankfully, the good Judge accepted and admitted most of the evidence submitted by the senator, including the affidavits of Azcueta and Berbigal. I also hope that Judge Soriano will take judicial notice of what  Armed Forces of the Philippines Chief of Staff Carlito Galvez himself acknowledged – that Trillanes had applied for amnesty and that it has been properly processed. General Galvez in fact took responsibility for the loss of the application which he attributed to lapses within the organization.

Judge Soriano’s decision is eagerly watched and is expected to come out anytime. It clearly has more serious consequences as the charges that could be revived against Trillanes in RTC 148, being the commission of the crime of coup d’état, is not bailable by right. Hopefully, this case stops at the level of the sala of Judge Soriano. If not, the Supreme Court has to weigh in and as early as next Tuesday during its weekly en banc session. Either way, this is a test of the integrity and courage of our Judges and Justices.

In my view, as I have written before, the revocation of the Trillanes amnesty is illegal, unwise, and immoral Let me expound these points again.

Let’s start with Proclamation 75, the amnesty proclamation under which Senator Trillanes applied for in connection with his involvement in the Oakwood mutiny and related incidents. This amnesty was processed by the defense department and the military, approved by then President Aquino and concurred in by Congress. Unlike pardon, amnesty looks backward and abolishes and puts into oblivion the offense itself, it so overlooks and obliterates the offense with which Trillanes was charged that he being released by amnesty stands before the law precisely as though he had committed no offense. There is no question that Trillanes is a grantee of a valid amnesty proclamation, as such his criminal liability was fully extinguished. The courts on the other hand cannot issue an arrest warrant for cases that have already been dismissed by virtue of the amnesty.

The revocation of the Trillanes amnesty is also unwise and detrimental to the national interest. Indeed, the revocation of any amnesty is disastrous for a country riven by social conflicts where political amnesties has been resorted to as a means for healing social and national strife.

As I wrote online: “In the Philippine American war, as the hostilities wound down, amnesty was resorted to so that everyone would have an option to come down from the hills. After World War II, even as it was controversial, amnesty was offered even to collaborators with the Japanese so the country could move on. In the 1960s and 1970s, and even during the martial law era, amnesties were resorted to bring the Huks, Moro rebels, and other groups back to the fold of the law. More recently, members of the Moro National Liberation Front, the Cordillera  People’s Liberation Army, several left-wing groups independent of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and military rebels were granted amnesty. In the future, amnesty has to be granted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as well as the cadres and combatants of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and National Democratic Front of the Philippines if a permanent peace settlement is achieved with the latter groups.”

There has never been an instance when amnesty given by one president has been revoked by a subsequent president. If this becomes a rule, future presidents would have lost an important tool for national healing and unity. Who would trust any president who  makes promises to rebel groups if his or her successor could at a whim revoke an amnesty?

Finally, the revocation of the Trillanes amnesty is evil, immoral and unjust because it is done for a personal reason, for partisan political motives, and not for the good of the country. The last minute argument that the amnesty certifications are invalid because they are not personally signed by the President is a desperate move by the executive branch, raised because there is no doubt that in fact Senator Trillanes had applied for amnesty and admitted guilt, which application was subsequently validated, processed, and approved under the rules established by the amnesty proclamation signed by the President and concurred in by Congress.

The revocation  of the Trillanes amnesty is a very dangerous precedent. It will create a Damocles sword hovering over the heads of rebels or dissidents who want to return to the fold of law. After all, it can be voided by a hostile administration at any time and cases previously dismissed can then be resurrected.

Like the De Lima cases, where the partiality of the Department of Justice and the lower courts have been questions, this is not just a fight that concerns the liberty of one senator. This is about all of us. This is about the future of peace processes in the country. This is also about due process and its role in our system. It is about the rule of law prevailing over power politics. And yes, most definitely under the circumstances, the Trillanes case is also about judicial independence.

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