Farce in progress
Buried in the Sept. 4 issue of the Manila Times is a copy of Proclamation No. 572 that ordered the unprecedented revocation of the amnesty granted to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, and his apprehension by the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police.
The proclamation, signed by President Duterte on Aug. 31 before he left on an official trip to Israel and Jordan, cited as its basis the supposed failure of the failed mutineer to “file an official amnesty application form.”
There is no available copy of his application for amnesty, the Palace said, and Trillanes also “never expressed his guilt for the crimes that were committed on occasion of the Oakwood mutiny and Peninsula Manila hotel siege.”
For those reasons, declared Mr. Duterte, the grant of amnesty to Trillanes was “void ab initio,” or void from the beginning, because he did not comply with the minimum requirements to qualify for amnesty under Proclamation No. 75 signed on Nov. 24, 2010, by President Benigno S. Aquino III, and later concurred in by both Houses of Congress.
That original reasoning barely lasted a day.
Legal experts and other observers immediately weighed in to declare that the proclamation had no basis in fact and law.
Relevant audio, video and photo evidence soon came up showing that Trillanes indeed applied for amnesty and admitted guilt in 2011.
Moreover, it was pointed out, the President cannot order anyone’s arrest, no matter his pique; only the courts can.
The rush by government forces to arrest Trillanes in the Senate premises on Tuesday was checked forthwith when the chamber provided sanctuary to one of its own and declared that Trillanes could not be arrested without a valid warrant.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines, expressing alarm at the development, said that amnesty, once granted, “cannot be simply dissolved by the invocation of the words ‘void ab initio’ as though it were some magical incantation that can nullify vested rights.”
The courts themselves seemed in no mood to indulge the Palace. The Department of Justice filed “very urgent” petitions to arrest Trillanes in not just one but two Makati City Regional Trial Courts, triggering charges of forum shopping.
Both, however, refused to issue any warrant and preferred to give Trillanes time to comment on the cases.
The Supreme Court itself, while declining to issue a temporary restraining order on the President’s proclamation as requested by Trillanes, remanded the matter to the lower courts, effectively further staying any move to arrest the senator.
Bested on all fronts, its immediate plans to have a fierce critic of the President triumphantly locked up in jail upon Mr. Duterte’s return now in shambles, the Palace was forced to retreat. It would respect the rule of law, it announced, and let the courts decide on the arrest.
But it was not about to back down so easily.
Next came a new justification: Former defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin had supposedly “usurped” the authority of the President to declare amnesty, because only the President can grant amnesty, and Gazmin’s signature on Trillanes et al.’s applications was not enough to make the amnesty official.
But Gazmin’s actions, everyone else pointed out, were in fact all in accordance with Aquino’s Proclamation No. 75.
Moreover, this belated resort to blaming Gazmin was obviously meant to shore up the battered Palace position; nowhere was any “usurpation” mentioned in the original reasons cited for the amnesty revocation.
Perhaps the more authentic reason was let out in Mr. Duterte’s unusual televised “tête-à-tête” with presidential legal counsel Salvador Panelo on Tuesday.
“Ang problema kay Trillanes ay (the problem with Trillanes is) he’s crucifying Bong Go for entering into business with the government,” said the President, referring to his long-time special assistant.
The implication seemed to be, if only Trillanes had played nice with the administration, he wouldn’t be hounded this way.
Certainly, that all-too-revealing pretext wouldn’t make it to the official Palace arguments once its case against Trillanes is heard in court.
But in this farce in progress with Malacañang moving its arguments and goalposts every time, the bet is high that yet another, more cockeyed rationale would soon roll out from the Palace story factory — any excuse, really, to cut down the prickliest thorn in the President’s side.
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