Court of Appeals

Trillanes wins amnesty case again as CA rejects Duterte govt’s ‘mental calisthenics’

Lian Buan

ANOTHER VICTORY. Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV scores another victory, this time before the Court of Appeals (CA), in his fight to keep an earlier amnesty grant.

File photo by Senate PRIB

The constitutionality of Duterte’s unilateral revocation of the amnesty is still upheld, with CA saying it ‘is a valid exercise by the President of his Constitutional power of control over all executive departments’

The Duterte government was again frustrated in its bid to jail  former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, after the Court of Appeals (CA) sustained a lower court decision that shut the door to the non-bailable coup d’etat case against the opposition key figure and staunch administration critic.

Calling the government arguments “mental calisthenics,” the Court of Appeals Special 11th Division said it “finds no grave abuse of discretion on the part of [Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148 Judge Andres Soriano] in rendering the assailed orders.”

“The order issued by Judge Soriano is sustained,” said the CA in the decision promulgated May 31, but released only on Wednesday, June 9. It was penned by Associate Justice Edwin Sorongon, with concurrences from Associate Justices Perpetua Susana Atal-Paño and Raymond Reynold Lauigan.

In the ruling, the justices sided with Judge Soriano who said that there was no factual basis to accuse Trillanes of not complying with all the conditions of amnesty, which would void the grant by former president Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. 

Solicitor General Jose Calida had initiated a search for Trillanes’ application form, which they then concluded was missing. President Rodrigo Duterte then unilaterally issued Proclamation No. 527 that voided the amnesty to Trillanes, setting in motion Department of Justice (DOJ) pleadings to get the lower courts to send Trillanes to jail.

But all those efforts have failed, the latest was this CA ruling.

In a statement on Wednesday, Trillanes said: “Nagpapasalamat ako sa mga Court of Appeals Justices sa pagtataguyod ng hustisya sa gitna ng mga baluktot na paggamit ni Duterte ng batas laban sa mga myembro ng oposisyon.”

(I thank the Court of Appeals justices for upholding justice in the middle of Duterte’s twisting of the law against members of the opposition.)

The constitutionality, however, of Proclamation No. 527 is still upheld with this CA ruling saying it was “a valid exercise by the President of his Constitutional power of control over all executive departments, bureaus, and offices.”

Mental calisthenics

In the lower courts, the DOJ had alleged, among others, a missing application form and non-admission of guilt to say that Aquino’s amnesty to Trillanes was void ab initio or void from the start.

Soriano said that not finding the records in the office does not mean that there never was one, seeing that defense officials and a journalist testified to seeing Trillanes file the application.

Soriano’s case – the coup d’etat charges over the Oakwood Mutiny – was crucial because this could have sent Trillanes back to jail as there was no bail grant won there.

The other case of rebellion which retired judge Elmo Alameda reopened, kept Trillanes free because there was an earlier bail granted. The CA 6th Division also shut the door anew to that rebellion case in a ruling last March.

When the government through the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) appealed the Soriano ruling, it raised a new argument – that Congress concurred in Aquino’s amnesty in December 2010, while former defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin granted Trillanes the amnesty only in January 2011.

The CA said Congress need only concurred in Aquino’s resolution to grant amnesty to the coup plotters and mutineers, and that it was for a separate committee to assess the application and compliance of the likes of Trillanes.

“It was later on that the Committee found that private respondent fulfilled the conditions of Proclamation No. 75, and was thus entitled to the benefits of the amnesty. Congress need not, and did not, concur with the latter,” said the CA.

The CA questioned why the government initially told lower courts that Trillanes did not meet all requirements, and then go to them with a new argument that the amnesty to all those involved, in itself, was void.

“This Court cannot comprehend the mental calisthenics entailed by the Janus-faced position petitioner assumed in this case. Why would it invoke the provisions of a proclamation which it would later on claim to be invalid due to being unconstitutional?” said the CA.

Trillanes on Wednesday also thanked Soriano, who had just recently convicted him of libel albeit without jailtime.

Nagpapasalamat din akong muli kay Judge Andres Soriano sa kanyang pagtindig para sa tama at salungat sa mga panggigipit ng Duterte administration,” said Trillanes.

(I’m thanking Judge Andres Soriano once again for standing up for what is right amid the harassment of the Duterte administration.)

Duterte’s proclamation upheld

But what Trillanes would have wanted to happen, which he had already raised in a still pending pending petition before the Supreme Court, is strike Duterte’s Proclamation No. 527 for being unconstitutional, because it was issued unilaterally.

Section 19, Article VII of the Constitution says the president “shall also have the power to grant amnesty with the concurrence of a majority of all the Members of Congress.”

But what about revocation? Does it need Congress concurrence? There is no clear text in the Constitution.

“There is nothing in the 1987 Constitution which prohibits the President to revoke the grant of a conditional amnesty, if he finds that the grantee failed to comply with the conditions thereof,” said the CA.

“Proclamation No. 572 is a valid exercise by the President of his Constitutional power of control over all executive departments, bureaus, and offices,” the CA added.

Trillanes had also argued that the proclamation violated his right to due process and equal protection. Equal protection was invoked because Trillanes’ amnesty was the only one probed and subsequently revoked.

“Absent a clear showing of intentional discrimination, the prosecuting officers shall be presumed to have regularly performed their official duties,” said the CA. – 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.