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Sisyphus’ Lament

How Trillanes, Proclamation No. 572 both won

The ruling on Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV’s amnesty by Judge Andres Soriano, Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148, seemed superbly Solomonic. But it actually follows our most famous Supreme Court decision on presidential proclamations.

On Feb. 24, 2006, Proclamation No. 1017 declared a “state of national emergency” due to an alleged plot to oust then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

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Inquirer columnist Randy David was arrested at Edsa, at a people power rally. Police seized draft layouts from the Daily Tribune’s offices at midnight.

In the legendary 2006 David vs Arroyo hearing, then UP College of Law Dean Raul Pangalangan debated then Chief Justice Reynato Puno mano a mano for three hours.

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Under the David ruling, a president may always issue proclamations to declare a status. Before the ruling, Arroyo declared a “state of rebellion” in 2003. Thus, one may even declare a “state of shookt.”

But any claimed legal effects are always subject to judicial adjudication. Under the David ruling, Proclamation No. 1017 was generally constitutional. But David’s arrest and the Tribune seizures were unconstitutional and the “state of national emergency” alone could not activate emergency powers in the Constitution.

In 2018, Proclamation No. 572 declared Trillanes’ 2011 amnesty void allegedly because he never applied for this. It ordered use of “all lawful means” to arrest him.

Implicitly following the David ruling, Soriano rejected Trillanes’ numerous arguments to nullify the proclamation itself, which agrees with my previous column.

Congress must concur to repeal an amnesty proclamation, but Proclamation No. 572 did not claim to do this. Nor was it a “bill of attainder,” an “ex post facto” law or discrimination.

Like my previous column, Soriano framed the issue as factual: Did Trillanes in fact apply for the 2011 amnesty?

Soriano meticulously documented the evidence down to intense cross-examination.

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Lt. Col. Thea Andrade certified that her office had no copy of Trillanes’ application for amnesty. On cross-examination, she clarified the only record her office had for Trillanes’ and 276 other amnesty grants was a final memorandum from the secretary of defense.

Various eyewitnesses testified they saw Trillanes apply, including Col. Josefa Berbigal, who received his application and administered his oath. She added applicants were not given duplicate application forms, and “loose records were no longer taken seriously” after deliberations.

The amnesty committee chair, former defense undersecretary Honorio Azcueta, testified he and the committee reviewed Trillanes’ application.

Finally, there were photos of Trillanes with Berbigal and of his received application form.

Soriano argued the issue is whether Trillanes actually submitted an application, not what this contained. In this case, the “best evidence” rule does not apply and the actual form is not required.

Soriano also argued based on soldiers’ testimony that the original amnesty records were lost after the deliberations, another exception to the best evidence rule.

Interestingly, in a separate case, Judge Elmo Alameda of Branch 150 required Trillanes to present his actual application form, invoking the best evidence rule. Alameda and Soriano appear to have reviewed similar evidence.

Note that although the Supreme Court is not a trier of fact, it determines how to interpret them, such as use of the best evidence rule. It also resolves conflicting appraisals of facts.

But for the meantime, everyone won under Soriano’s Solomonic decision.

Both the executive’s power to make proclamations and Trillanes’ 2011 amnesty were respected.

Soriano himself also won; eager students of constitutional, criminal and evidence law nationwide are surely dissecting his well-argued, thorough work.

The Supreme Court should upload all trial court decisions attracting attention, such as Soriano’s and the recent
conviction of Gen. Jovito Palparan.

This not only promotes fact-checking of news reports, it recognizes judges who produce quality rulings.

React: [email protected], Twitter @oscarfbtan, facebook.com/OscarFranklinTan. This column does not represent the opinion of organizations with which the author is affiliated.

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TAGS: amnesty revocation, Andres Soriano, Antonio Trillanes IV, coup d'etat case, Elmo Alameda, Manila Peninsula Siege, Oakwood mutiny, Oscar Franklin Tan, rebellion case, revocation of amnesty, Sisyphus’ Lament
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