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Just punishment

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 04:45:00 07/20/2010

Filed Under: Inquirer Politics, Congress, Crime and Law and Justice, Government, Judiciary (system of justice), Punishment

It is unfortunate that President Aquino expressed the opinion that detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV may have been a victim of injustice since state prosecutors could have erred in filing a case of coup d?etat against him. Unfortunate because various motives are being ascribed to Mr. Aquino?s statement, one of them being that Trillanes would be freed so that he could vote for the President?s ally, Sen. Francis Pangilinan, for Senate president. As Sen. Edgardo Angara has said, the timing is so close to the coming election of the Senate president as to be suspect.

Senators Joker Arroyo and Angara said that Mr. Aquino?s order was tantamount to meddling in the judiciary and the Senate, two government entities that are independent of the Executive under the constitutional principle of separation of powers.

It is possible that President Aquino, who has been described by Angara as a ?well-meaning person?? and who is known for his sense of justice, was scandalized by what he considered a possible miscarriage of justice in the case of Trillanes. In addition to the charge of coup d?etat, Trillanes is also facing a rebellion charge on account of his participation in the siege of the Peninsula Hotel in 2007. The cases against Trillanes have dragged for seven years, and all the while he has been detained and has not even been allowed to attend the sessions of the Senate although he won a seat in it on the votes of 11 million of his countrymen.

As the President himself has said, he is no lawyer, and he should have left it to the lawyers, the judges and the proper government entities to act more speedily on Trillanes? case. And Trillanes? case should not have been singled out. There are other officers facing charges in court like those involved in the Peninsula siege and the Marine standoff in 2006. If Trillanes? case is to be reviewed, why not review also the cases of the other officers?

Arroyo and Angara have said that the President cannot interfere in a judicial matter. Now that the Trillanes case is in court, the Executive cannot and should not interfere in the case. The President, despite his personal feelings, should just wait for the court to make its decision; if he considers it unfair, the decision can always be appealed to a higher court. There are remedies and corrective measures inherent in the country?s judicial system. If after the case has been appealed to the Supreme Court and the decision still does not satisfy the President?s sense of justice, he could always grant a pardon or commute the sentence.

The trial court would do well to take note of the statements of retired Commodore Rex Robles, who said that the President?s opinion on the Trillanes case was not inconsistent with the recommendations of the Feliciano Fact-Finding Commission which investigated the root causes of the Oakwood mutiny. Trillanes was one of the leaders of the Oakwood mutiny. Robles, a member of the commission, said that there should be punishment, ?but it must fit the offense.??

We also believe there must be punishment, but it should not be similar to the 20 pushups that then Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Fidel V. Ramos ordered for the 490 soldiers who took over the Manila Hotel in July 1986 and tried to install former President Ferdinand Marcos? running mate, Arturo M. Tolentino, as acting president. That was a ridiculous form of punishment, and it possibly encouraged renegade soldiers to mount several other attempts to seize power from then President Corazon Aquino.

While it may be said that the case against Trillanes is ?a political case,?? his action being directed against then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo whom he and his colleagues charged with corruption, he should not be allowed to get off lightly by the new administration. Trillanes? case may set a precedent, and in the future, Mr. Aquino himself may face a similar situation. How then will he react?

Neither should the punishment be very severe, practically incapacitating a person who could render service to the nation in the legislature. It should be a just punishment that must fit the crime and serve also as a warning to other military officers and soldiers that even in the event of a change in administration they cannot escape punishment for crimes committed against public order.

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