Calida’s ‘mental calisthenics’
Just five months after getting a severe dressing down from the Supreme Court, Solicitor General Jose Calida received another judicial rebuke when the 11th division of the Court of Appeals scored his “Janus-faced” position and “mental calisthenics” over the Duterte administration’s bid to revoke the amnesty given to its fierce critic, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, and have him arrested.
The CA division last week upheld the decision of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148 Judge Andres Soriano dismissing the non-bailable coup d’etat case against Trillanes, saying the judge did not commit grave abuse of discretion when it refused to order Trillanes’ arrest and issue a hold departure order against him after President Duterte revoked Trillanes’ amnesty in 2018. The decision, penned by Associate Justice Edwin Sorongon, was concurred in by Associate Justices Perpetua Susana Atal-Paño and Raymond Reynold Lauigan.
Calida had been at the forefront of trying to revive the criminal cases against Trillanes, who availed himself of amnesty in 2011 under Proclamation No. 75 issued by then President Benigno Aquino III for Trillanes and other participants of the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, the 2006 Marines standoff, and the 2007 Manila Pen siege.
The Solicitor General and the Department of Justice (DOJ), in seeking to revive the coup d’etat case, said the amnesty was void since Trillanes did not comply with the terms of the amnesty. Specifically, the DOJ said Trillanes did not admit his guilt and that his application form was missing. The Solicitor General’s office supposedly searched for the application form but did not find it.
The Makati judge, in dismissing the DOJ case, ruled that not finding the records did not mean there was no application. The court gave credence to witnesses, including defense officials and a journalist, who testified that they saw Trillanes file his application for amnesty.
Siding with the Makati RTC, the CA said Trillanes should not be faulted if the custodians of public records lost the document: “Lamentable as it is, since this entire controversy is anchored on the purported inexistence of this application form, it would be certainly unfair, however, if private respondent or any other applicant-grantee for that matter would be allowed to suffer the consequences of the negligence or inefficiency of said public officer or office.”
The CA then took aim at the Solicitor General, reprimanding Calida for his two-faced argument questioning the validity of Aquino’s Proclamation No. 75. “Here, petitioner essentially invoked before the RTC the provisions of Proclamation No. 75 in arguing that private respondent failed to meet the conditions set therein, only to double back on itself before this Court, and argue at the end of its Petition that ‘the grant of amnesty to private respondent and his co-accused cannot withstand judicial scrutiny.’”
“This Court cannot comprehend the mental calisthenics entailed by the Janus-faced position petitioner assumed in this case,” said the CA. “Why would it invoke the provisions of a proclamation which it would later on claim to be invalid due to being unconstitutional? Indeed, the alleged unconstitutionality of Proclamation No. 75 should have been raised in the RTC.”
The tough language recalls how the Supreme Court, sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal (PET), chastised Calida in January for using his office, supposedly as the “People’s Tribune,” to intervene on behalf of defeated vice presidential candidate Ferdinand “Bongbong’’ Marcos Jr. in his election protest against Vice President Leni Robredo.
“‘People’s Tribune’ is not to be hoisted wantonly in big-ticket cases involving private parties,’’ warned the PET.
Noting that Calida’s pleading had echoed Marcos’ petition to the letter, it advised the Solicitor General to “conduct a careful self-examination’’ and “exercise… discretion’’ before deploying his office for his pet personal causes: “All counsels including the Solicitor General are reminded to attend to their cases with the objectivity and dignity demanded by our profession and keep their passions and excitement in check.’’
Since the lower and appellate courts have already affirmed the validity of Trillanes’ amnesty, this issue should be deemed resolved and definitively — exhaustively — threshed out by now. The OSG has devoted inordinate time, effort, and government resources to pursuing a campaign of naked political vendetta against an administration critic, when it has a huge backlog of unresolved cases and has yet to satisfactorily comply with the earlier Supreme Court directive to release government records on the “war on drugs.”
And yet the last word from the administration is that it will still appeal the CA ruling to the Supreme Court, because it’s an “important case.” Incorrigible is the word.
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