Reporter testifies with amnesty officials: I saw Trillanes apply
MANILA, Philippines – A news reporter joined the testimony of former amnesty officials in telling the court that they witnessed Senator Antonio Trillanes IV apply for amnesty in January 2011, contrary to the claim of the Duterte administration that he did not file a form, therefore a basis to re-arrest and jail him.
GMA News Online news editor Mark Merueñas took the stand on Friday, October 5, as a witness for the prosecution during the hearing of the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 148.
On the cross-examination of Trillanes’ lawyer Rey Robles, Merueñas told the court he personally saw Trillanes apply for amnesty on January 5, 2011, while covering the said event as a defense reporter at the time.
Robles repeatedly asked Merueñas if he saw the senator apply with his own eyes, to which the reporter also repeatedly answered under oath: “Yes, sir.”
Merueñas is the witness of the prosecution due to his 2011 article quoting Trillanes in an ambush interview, saying that “we did not admit to the charge of 'coup d'etat.” But Robles hailed the reporter’s testimony as a positive development on their side.
Robles told the court that he was not opposing some of the prosecution’s evidence, “particularly Merueñas who admitted that he personally witnessed the application.”
Acting Prosecutor General Richard Fadullon tried to swing the Merueñas testimony back to their favor by asking the reporter if he was close enough to see that what Trillanes was submitting was the actual form, and if he could attest to the form’s content.
“I was far away,” Merueñas said, adding that cameramen and photographers were the ones near Trillanes.
It led Robles to exclaim frustratedly: “Is the prosecution saying that Trillanes staged everything?” (READ: [ANALYSIS] Philippine courts dribble, stall on Trillanes amnesty issue)
Robles said after the hearing: "'Yung sariling witness nila ay umamin na nakita niya si Senator Trillanes na nag-file at nag-apply ng amnesty, so 'yun po 'yung pinaka-material na development." (Their own witness admitted that he saw Senator Trillanes file and apply for amnesty, so that is the most material development.)
Merueñas added to the testimony of ad hoc committee chairman Honorio Azcueta and committee secretariat head Colonel Josefa Berbigal, who reiterated to the court on Friday they attest that Trillanes applied.
Berbigal was the officer who received Trillanes’ application form and who administered his oath.
But Fadullon, showing his litigation chops, questioned Berbigal’s memory, authority, and even competence as the secretariat head.
Fadullon made these points in a tense cross-examination, where Berbigal was repeatedly cut whenever she was about to expound. Fadullon would tell the colonel: "Answer only what you’re asked" or "I did not ask you to explain."
- Why can’t Berbigal remember the names of other amnesty applicants, but remembers Trillanes?
- Is Berbigal even authorized to administer Trillanes’ oath?
- Why did Berbigal allow the loss of the records when she was tasked as the secretariat to safekeep it?
It also didn’t help the defense that Azcueta and Berbigal differed on who kept the records. Berbigal told the court the originals went to Azcueta for transmittal to the Secretary of Defense, while Azcueta said he gave them back to Berbigal.
Berbigal also said there were photocopies during deliberation, but that they "no longer took the copies seriously" after seeing that the originals were already with Azcueta. When Azcueta was asked, he said he could not recall that there were photocopies.
“What is the best evidence that he really filed? Is it the testimony of the people who were with you, pictures, interviews? No, the best evidence is the document itself," Fadullon said.
Berbigal told the court that the applicants, such as Trillanes, did not get receiving copies, leading Fadullon to point the blame to the ad hoc committee.
"Eh kung pinag-ingatan 'yung dokumento ngayon na pinagtatakahan ko bakit iisang kopya lang, tapos magtataka ka rin sabi ni Berbigal may photocopies, sana man lang may makita tayo doon kahit isa," Fadullon said.
(If they only took care the documents – and I can't understand: why there was only one copy, but Berbigal also said there were photocopies – then we should at least get to see even just one copy.)
But Fadullon denied that this would risk the other amnesty grantees, saying that Trillanes is the only subject of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Proclamation 572.
Judge Soriano wants careful consideration
Branch 148 Judge Andres Soriano was not keen on summoning Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, whom the defense requested to bring to court “for accounting of where the records are.”
Robles eventually dropped his request. The hearing ended 4:30 pm after 7 hours.
Both camps have until Wednesday, October 10, to submit all their written offer of evidence, after which the case will be submitted for resolution.
Soriano is handling the coup d’etat charges against Trillanes that stemmed from the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny. If he orders the arrest of Trillanes, there would be no bail, unlike Branch 150 Judge Elmo Alameda who had a previous bail grant of P200,000.
“I know there are sensitive considerations, so this must be studied closely. I would like to study this a little more as I don’t want to force myself into a resolution,” Soriano said. – Rappler.com