Without invalidating Duterte order, CA favors Trillanes in amnesty case

The Court of Appeals has once again closed the rebellion case against key opposition leader Antonio Trillanes IV, ruling that a Makati judge committed grave abuse of discretion in reopening the trial.

The appellate court handed a win to Trillanes without, however, invalidating President Rodrigo Duterte's proclamation that voided the former senator's amnesty.

How did that happen?

The CA Sixth Division on Monday, March 1, reversed the order of Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 150 Judge Elmo Alameda which reopened the rebellion trial for Trillanes. Alameda reopened it after finding that Trillanes did not sufficiently prove that he indeed was validly given amnesty.

"The assailed Orders of 25 September 2018 and 18 December 2018, having been issued by the respondent court that no longer had jurisdiction on a dismissed criminal action and that acted with grave abuse of discretion, are set aside and vacated," said the decision, penned by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr, with concurrences from Associate Justices Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob and Angelene Mary Quimpo-Sale.

Duterte's Proclamation 572 unilaterally voided the amnesty given to Trillanes by former president Benigno "Noynoy" Aquino III on the basis of an alleged missing application form.

CA justices ruled that Alameda committed grave abuse of discretion when the judge reopened trial without comprehensively studying the evidence given by Trillanes. In lieu of the actual copy of the application form, Trillanes had submitted affidavits from defense officials, saying that he indeed had applied.

These were the same evidence submitted to Makati RTC Branch 148 Judge Andres Soriano in a separate coup d'etat case. Soriano refused to reopen trial, saying Trillanes' evidence was sufficient to prove he was validly given amnesty. Judge Soriano ruled in that case he can no longer reopen a case that had long been closed by the amnesty grant.

"We are of the view that, had only one approach been taken, one that allowed the reception of evidence in full measure, common answers to common questions of facts would have been elicited," the CA Sixth Division said.

Did not invalidate Duterte's proclamation

But the CA effectively upheld Duterte's Proclamation 572, saying it did not violate the equal protection clause and the right against double jeopardy. Double jeopardy provides that one cannot be retried for the same crime one had already been cleared of, like Trillanes, by way of amnesty.

"There is no clear constitutional basis in our jurisdiction which is directly related to the issue of revocability of a previously-granted amnesty," said the justices, addressing questions of whether a president can unilaterally void an amnesty that was given with the approval of Congress.

Still, the CA said the proclamation did not violate the right against double jeopardy.

The Revised Rules on Criminal Procedure said only those who were cleared "without their express consent" are safe from re-prosecution.

In the Supreme Court case People vs Labatete, there is express consent if the prosecutor or the accused wants to postpone or seek a reinvestigation, and instead the court just opts to dismiss provisionally. There will be no double jeopardy if that is reopened in those situations.

But for Trillanes, the CA said that: "In herein petition, since the dismissal of the rebellion case against the petitioner was by reason of his ex-parte motion to dismiss, he is deemed to have expressly given his consent to such dismissal."

"Considering that the first jeopardy did not attach when Criminal Case No. 07-3126 or the rebellion case was previously dismissed, any consequent action against the petitioner for the same crime of rebellion will not expose him to double jeopardy," said the CA.

Trillanes also said the proclamation violated his equal protection, since he was the lone target of Duterte's order and not any other mutineers who were also granted amnesty.

"Proclamation No. 572 does not preclude the revocation of other grantees' conditional amnesty at some future time if it be found that they also breached or failed to comply with the amnesty conditions," said the CA.

The proclamation was also not a bill of attainder nor an ex post facto law, said the CA. A bill of attainder is a legislative act that gives punishment without trial.

"Proclamation No. 572 is an executive act, not an act of the legislature," said the CA.

Ex post facto punishes a person for a crime that was not a crime yet when it was committed. The CA said ex post facto laws apply only to penal laws.

"Not being a penal law, Proclamation No. 572 cannot be challenged as violative of the constitutional proscription against ex-post facto laws," said the CA.

This is also what Soriano did in his decision – he ruled in favor of Trillanes without invalidating the legality of Duterte's proclamation.

The question of the Duterte proclamation's constitutionality is still pending at the Supreme Court, a case that Chief Justice Diosdado Peralta is in charge of.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra passed it on to Solicitor General Jose Calida to think of the next step.

"I will leave it to the Office of the Solicitor General, as counsel for the government, to determine the appropriate legal remedy, which may include a motion for reconsideration with the Court of Appeals or a petition for review with the Supreme Court," said Guevarra.

In a statement, Trillanes said: "Sana all na judges and justices ay may ganitong sense of justice to check the prevailing authoritarianism in the country." (I hope all judges and justices have this sense of justice to check the prevailing authoritarianism in the country.) – Rappler.com

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.

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