18oct02-Trillanes case: Legal and moral dilemma

POSTSCRIPT / October 2, 2018 / Tuesday

Trillanes case: Legal and moral dilemma

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

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THE BURDEN has passed from one Makati judge to another of speeding up or impeding the moves of state prosecutors sent to throw into prison senator Antonio Trillanes IV who has been a nuisance to President Duterte.

The onus has fallen on Judge Andres Soriano of the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148 of deciding if President Duterte had validly voided the amnesty granted in 2011 to Trillanes, the leader of a failed coup d’etat centered on the 2003 Oakwood Mutiny.

Soriano can speed up Trillanes’ prosecution by upholding Duterte’s Proclamation 572 voiding the amnesty granted by then President Aquino, at the same time ordering the arrest and detention without bail of the mutinous former navy officer.

On the other hand, the judge can derail Duterte’s designs by accepting the senator’s offer of secondary evidence showing that he had filed the required amnesty application and sworn admission of guilt. Prosecutors said no such documents had been filed.

Either way Soriano acts, the case will reach the Supreme Court – where the key issue, which is the validity of Duterte’s voiding of the amnesty granted to Trillanes and scores of other soldiers, will be resolved with finality.

The case will test not only the legal acuity of the judge and of the members of the Supreme Court, but also their moral courage.

Soriano is the second Makati judge to act on Trillanes’ cases, the first one (for the Peninsula hotel siege in 2007) being Judge Elmo Alameda of Branch 150 who upheld last week Duterte’s voiding of the amnesty and issued an arrest warrant against Trillanes (but allowing him to post bail).

Soriano now emerges as a subordinate judge called upon to rule on an action of the President. As the Supreme Court is not a trier of facts, it has directed the RTC to determine the factual bases of the presidential granting and the subsequent voiding of the amnesty.

Law Dean Mel Sta. Maria noted on Twitter: “Judge Andres Soriano is in a special position. How great it is for a lower court, not the Supreme Court, to reverse the mighty Presidency, and give life to the axiom: Let justice be done though the heavens fall.”

He added, “Let’s pray for him (Soriano)” — reflecting the perception of a significant number of netizens that the opposition senator has been targeted selectively from scores of fellow military men who had participated in mutinies or coup attempts.

Some netizens asked those who believe that the voiding of the amnesty was invalid to pray that Soriano be guided not only by what the law says, but also by what his conscience tells him to be the correct moral choice.

The 62-year-old Soriano, previously the presiding judge of Malolos RTC Branch 13 in Bulacan, was among the contenders for the position of Supreme Court administrator, which was eventually given to Midas Marquez.

He was appointed to the Makati RTC Branch in 2012 by president Aquino. In 2015, he was on the short list of nominees for a justiceship at the Court of Appeals, but did not make it.

It is not yet too late, however, for Soriano’s promotion to the appellate court as there is still time before his retirement on Nov. 30, 2026.

• Amnesty grant no longer presumed regular

SINCE it was granted in 2011, the amnesty given to Trillanes et al. and concurred in by the Congress has enjoyed the presumption of regularity – until partisan politics reared its ugly head.

Trillanes, in his usual brusque manner, questioned President Duterte’s uprightness, demanding that he disclose and explain what the senator said were secret multimillion-peso bank accounts. Duterte said he did not have more than P40 million.

In Senate public hearings, Trillanes also accused Duterte of having had a hand in extrajudicial killings since he was Davao mayor, as well as coddling drug lords and smugglers. The President and his defenders denied the alleged crimes.

Trillanes created more enemies when he also attacked Solicitor General Jose Calida who, he said, had worked out several fat government contracts. He raised the issue of conflict of interest, which Calida denied.

Fresh from his successful drive to oust then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno using a quo warranto approach to show that her appointment was void ab initio for her failure to submit required Statements of Assets and Liabilities, Calida turned his guns on Trillanes.

He used the same tack of required documents not having been filed. Calida researched Trillanes’ amnesty records to show that the mutineer did not submit an application for amnesty and a sworn admission of guilt.

On the basis of the SolGen’s findings, President Duterte issued Proclamation 572 last month voiding ab initio the amnesty granted by Aquino. He ordered the senator’s arrest, his reversion to pre-amnesty military status and his facing a court-martial.

Judge Alameda ordered the arrest of Trillanes and the resumption of his trial for the Peninsula siege. Trillanes admitted he could not produce the amnesty documents he was directed to present, in lieu of which he offered secondary evidence of his compliance.

Alameda rejected as “barren of probative weight” the evidence – including a video clip and photograph of Trillanes holding his application form, and an affidavit of Col. Josefa Berbigal of the defense department saying that she had received the applicant’s papers.

But Alameda gave weight to a news clipping where Trillanes was quoted saying that he “did not admit to the charge of coup d’etat” as evidence that he did not admit guilt. The judge was criticized for using double standards.

Judge Soriano is expected to be asked also to accept the same secondary evidence of Trillanes’ compliance. Will he follow the path taken by Alameda or — if his conviction tells him otherwise — will he evince moral courage to rule, in effect, against the President?

 

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 2, 2018. Follow the author on Twitter as @FDPascual.

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