Trillanes may be forced to go to the Supreme Court

Lian Buan
Trillanes may be forced to go to the Supreme Court
(UPDATED) ‘Of course there is always danger in going straight to the Supreme Court given the current composition and disposition of the SC,’ says criminal law expert Alexander Padilla

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – Senator Antonio Trillanes IV may be forced to go straight to the Supreme Court (SC) to fight his arrest and challenge President Rodrigo Duterte’s proclamation that voided his amnesty from coup charges.

“The criminal court is not the proper forum to prove that the President’s proclamation was unfounded,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told Rappler Tuesday night, September 4, when asked if Trillanes can present his proof to the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) that he has fulfilled his requirements for amnesty.

The amnesty of Trillanes was voided on two grounds: (1) he allegedly failed to file an official application and (2) he did not admit guilt. The senator contested the charge and said he had duly fulfilled them.

The Department of Justice (DOJ) has applied for an alias warrant against Trillanes at Makati RTC Branch 148 which previously handled the coup charges.

Asked where the proper forum is to prove that his amnesty was valid, Guevarra said: “That’s for Trillanes’ counsel to find out, but not in the RTC.”

‘Danger’ with going to SC

In an earlier press conference, Guevarra tried to dodge a question on whether the SC is the proper court, and instead said: “Well I guess, any act of the government is subject to judicial review, to determine whether there’s grave abuse of discretion.”

“Of course there is always danger (in going straight to the Supreme Court) given the current composition and disposition of the SC,” said criminal law expert Alexander Padilla, who also represented detained Senator Leila de Lima in the SC.

The SC affirmed the drug charges and the arrest of De Lima, a ruling that Senior Associate Justice Antonio Carpio called as one of the grossest injustices in the country.

“If I were given a choice, I will of course move first to quash the warrant from the court which issued the same just to comply with the procedural issues and if the decision is adverse, go up to the SC,” said Padilla.

Constitutional Law professor Dan Gatmaytan said that the factual issues of whether or not Trillanes fulfilled his requirements for his amnesty should be threshed out in the lower court.

“It is unlikely that the Supreme Court will hear this case given the fact that there are factual issues to be resolved. These would include whether Senator Trillanes complied with the conditions for an amnesty,” Gatmaytan told Rappler.

Edre Olalia of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said it’s a legal dilemma, because there is also the question of whether a new case should be filed against Trillanes at the RTC.

“If one raises it with the SC, will the public view with certainty that its decision is absolutely and solely based on the law and the merits or demerits of the case? The wisdom of these choices will only be proven correct a posteriori. At the end of it all, it is political,” Olalia said.

Guevarra said that the Makati RTC can only proceed to issue a warrant, and promulgate a decision on the coup charges, but not on the amnesty. Trillanes, if he wants, can ask Duterte for clemency, Guevarra said.

Trillanes’ lawyer Rey Robles said Tuesday night that they have not yet decided on what type of case to file and where, but that they would do so on Wednesday, September 5.

‘Not a fad’

Trillanes’ amnesty is the first one in recent memory to be declared void ab initio, meaning it was never valid from the start.

It is a case of first impression, just like the quo warrano ouster of former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, which is the latest in the increasing list of winning cases for Solicitor General Jose Calida and the Duterte administration.

“It just so happened that all of these matters were invalid to begin with. It’s not a fad, I’m telling you it’s not a fad. Walang pattern nagkakataon lang ‘yun. (There’s no pattern, it’s just a coincidence,)” Guevarra said.

Guevarra added: “It’s not a question of political opposition, it is a matter of compliance with the law.” – Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.