‘The law is vibrant’
Judge Andres Soriano’s decision is a clear victory for the rule of law—and for common sense. For precisely those reasons, it is a vigorous assertion of the democratic values on which our constitutional order is based.
In rejecting the Duterte administration’s motion to arrest Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV for allegedly failing the conditions of the
amnesty granted to him, Soriano, the presiding judge of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148, merely adhered to both the spirit and the letter of the law.
But what a struggle to achieve that state of “merely”!
He faced extraordinary pressure from all sides, but especially from an administration that was ready to effect the controversial arrest of an opposition leader even under scandalous circumstances: armed men in the Senate’s premises, the stealthy publication of a person-specific presidential proclamation, various government lawyers (the President included) offering absurd justifications for revoking a grant of amnesty.
When he granted interviews, Soriano publicly struggled with the import of the case, because it meant reviewing a judgment that was considered final and executory.
He made a point of calling as many hearings as he thought he needed. When another Makati Regional Trial Court granted a related motion to arrest Trillanes, but allowed bail, the pressure on Soriano only grew.
The decision of Oct. 22, then, was firstly a profile in courage. In firmly contradicting the arguments behind the motion, Soriano ruled squarely against the administration: the same administration in whose hands lie his hopes of career advancement.
Without yet discussing the merits of his decision, any reasonable citizen can see that the mere fact that he disregarded Malacañang’s own preference is something to be praised.
But the decision is, in fact, solid jurisprudence.
It finds that the administration’s main assertion, that Trillanes failed the conditions of his amnesty, was false.
“The Court finds and so holds that Trillanes did file his amnesty application in the prescribed form in which he also admitted guilt for his participation in the Oakwood mutiny, among others, and in which he further recanted all previous statements that he may have made contrary to said admission.”
In “merely” accepting Trillanes’ counterevidence, Soriano upheld the rule of law, not the law of the ruler.
But part of the disruption caused by the government’s arrest-Trillanes-at-all-costs cases was their assault on basic logic.
The court called out the worst of the administration’s attacks on common sense.
“The fact that no records of the application exists in the files of the Secretariat and/or the Ad Hoc Committee or the other offices of the DND does not of itself mean that no application was filed.
“The prosecution witness, who certified on the unavailability of Trillanes’ amnesty application records, testified that she did not intend to state thereby that Trillanes did not file an amnesty application.”
This has long been clear to many a layman; it is bracing to hear such basic logic asserted, amplified, in a crucial court ruling.
In the decision’s “postscript,” Soriano drew the implications of his adherence to the rule of law (holding for Trillanes’ “unrebutted evidence”) and to simple logic: He gently but firmly criticized the administration’s attack on the stability of certain legal principles on which the very possibility of governance rests.
The records show, he says, “that this case has long been dismissed as per the Court’s Order dated Sept. 21, 2011, by virtue of Proclamation No. 75… The dismissal, it appears, has become final and executory.”
And then the necessary implication (and timely reminder): “Well established is the doctrine that a final and executory judgment shall be immutable. The Court, in fact, loses jurisdiction over the case when its decision has become final and executory.”
The democratic project is undermined when the rule of law and the laws of logic are attacked; but it is rendered naked and vulnerable to great risk when democratic institutions such as independent courts are trifled with.
Soriano spoke eloquently about the role of judicial independence.
“Meanwhile, the law is vibrant. Jurisprudence is its lifeblood.”
He meant it as a (typically) gracious acknowledgment that judicial doctrines can change. But instead, it read as a stirring affirmation of timeless principles — and also as their timely proof.
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