Proclamation No. 572, issued by the President on Aug. 31 but published only on Sept. 4, when he was already on his official visit to Israel, seeks to revoke the grant of amnesty given to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV in 2011 as “void ab initio” and orders his immediate arrest.
This act of the Executive is not only a grievous mistake, an unwise policy that will undermine confidence in the government’s amnesty programs; it is also, and above all, a gross violation of the Constitution and an attack on the very rule of law.
The attempt to put Trillanes, a former Navy officer and mutineer, behind bars again was an orchestrated, multipart legal and bureaucratic offensive.
Many elements were involved: the drafting of the presidential proclamation and its unannounced publication on the day Solicitor General Jose Calida’s controversial security agency was the subject of a committee inquiry led by Trillanes; the eager participation of comparatively low-ranking officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of National Defense (no generals or former generals) in a coordinated news conference; the timely filing of a motion for a hold departure order and a warrant of arrest against Trillanes with the Makati Regional Trial Court.
And the Duterte administration would have pulled off a political coup if the Senate had not insisted on the prerogatives of one of its members, and thus of the dignity of the institution.
Whatever may be said about Senate President Vicente Sotto III, in the initial hours of the crisis he cut a clear contrast with the way the Senate conducted itself when Sen. Leila de Lima was the target of an orchestrated legal and bureaucratic offensive.
And the decision of Makati Regional Trial Court Presiding Judge Andres Soriano, first not to be stampeded into issuing a ruling by insisting on reading the case files and second by scheduling a hearing on the merits of the motion for next week, may have provided only temporary relief to Trillanes, but it was still a welcome display of a court’s independence.
Stripped of legal gobbledygook, the President’s order asserts that Trillanes failed to meet two conditions of his amnesty.
First, that Trillanes “did not file an Official Amnesty Application Form as per the Certification dated Aug. 30, 2018, issued by Lt. Col. Thea Joan N. Andrade… stating that ‘there is no available copy of his application for amnesty in the records.’”
And second, that Trillanes “never expressed his guilt for the crimes that were committed on occasion of the Oakwood Mutiny and Peninsula Manila Hotel Siege.”
As TV reports and newspaper stories from 2011 show, Trillanes and other ex-mutineers said that “they were not admitting guilt to the mutiny and coup d’etat charges.” (This and another quote are included in the presidential proclamation.)
But the same reports and stories also show, first, that Trillanes (like others) did file his application form, and second, that he (like others) made a “general admission of guilt” in his application, which he swore to.
Between this sworn statement and his boastful statements before the media, which one carries legal weight?
And if the same TV reports and newspaper stories show that he had filed his application, then the issue of liability reverts to the military office in charge of the documents.
The application form, complete with ID photos and signatures, was seen by many witnesses and, by extension, by tens of thousands of TV viewers.
That it was valid is proven by the amnesty the Armed Forces processed and Trillanes received.
If his application is missing now, then the officials in charge of that document must answer for it.
Trillanes himself gives the best analogy for the Duterte administration’s “case” against him.
To acquire a passport, a citizen needs to meet certain requirements. A passport is issued only if all the requirements are met. If one of those required documents happens to go missing in the archives of the Department of Foreign Affairs, the passport does NOT become invalid.
The “case” against him now is exactly the same; the grant of amnesty is itself proof that all the requirements were met. If, after the grant, one of the required documents goes missing, the amnesty remains valid.
It does not become invalid, or void from the start, on mere presidential say-so.
Indeed, an amnesty should not be revoked, because it imperils trust in the government as a negotiating party. And if an amnesty can be revoked, revocation must be at the same hands of those who granted it: the President and Congress, together.
A President cannot order anyone’s arrest, without a court order.
A civilian cannot be reclassified as military, on the President’s whim.
And no one, not even the President, can change the rule of law to fit political objectives — or hit political targets.
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.