POSTSCRIPT / August 12, 2003 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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It’s GMA sworn duty to prosecute putschists

NO CHOICE: President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo has no choice but to prosecute the soldiers and their civilian cohorts who participated in the July 27 attempted coup d’etat.

The President is sworn to uphold the law. She could not have agreed under duress to exempt the rebel soldiers from prosecution for crimes related to the failed coup.

The President is also sworn to obey the Constitution and defend the Republic. When the state is faced with a serious threat, such as a coup attempt, she has to act swiftly and firmly to defend it.

It is clear, at least to those who still love their country, that President Arroyo is right in pressing charges against all co-conspirators in the failed coup. Let the putschists go and they will only wait for another day to attempt another coup.

How can we live in peace with military adventurers waving the barrel of a gun at us?

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DOUBLE JEOPARDY: Some readers exposed to our line that the Oakwood rebel soldiers — or at least the core group of officers — be tried for coup d’etat before a civilian court are asking how this could be done without putting the accused in double jeopardy.

The problem of double jeopardy need not arise if we set our minds to prosecuting all the coup conspirators in logical sequence.

Reader Bobby Tordesillas of pworld.net asked in an email: “How would it be possible to try the civilian leaders or the masterminds for the crime of coup d’etat in a civilian court when the principal actors, the soldiers who executed the crime, are being tried in a separate court, the military court?”

He added: “The civilian personalities can only be convicted of the crime of coup d’etat when it has been established that what the soldiers did was an act of coup d’etat. But you (Postscript) are saying that the soldiers cannot be convicted of this crime in a military court because it is not included in the Articles of War. So how is this now possible?”

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NO EXEMPTION: We reiterate our suggestion that the soldiers be tried before a civilian court on coup charges. Their uniform does not exempt them from the Revised Penal Code. On the contrary, their uniform is an aggravating element.

Just because the crime of coup d’etat is not in the Articles of War does not mean that we have no choice but to let the rebel soldiers go scot-free. We have the regular civilian courts to fill that imagined prosecution gap.

We highly recommend, btw, that you read the STAR column yesterday (titled “Upholding the rule of law”) of lawyer Jose C. Sison on the relevance and application of Article 134-A of the Revised Penal Code pertaining to the crime of coup d’etat.

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CONSOLIDATION: Coup charges against the soldiers and the civilian co-conspirators should be consolidated in one civilian court since the common charges arise from the same set of facts and are governed by the same laws.

Consolidation is important because if the coup plotters are tried separately, there may arise the absurd and dangerous situation where two courts will have different appreciations of the facts and mete out different penalties.

Or worse, one court might acquit some or all of the accused while the other court will act differently. Consolidation also saves time for everybody. Swift, sure justice in this case involving the survival of the state is paramount.

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COURT MARTIAL: What about the promise to the soldiers that they would be tried before a court martial?

We can keep that promise. We can take them before a military court for insubordination, going AWOL, conduct unbecoming, etc., and other minor charges covered by the Articles of War.

But we have to be careful about also charging them before a court martial with sedition and rebellion, since these crimes have elements also found in the crime of coup d’etat.

If the rebel soldiers are indicted for rebellion or sedition before a military court ahead of their indictment for coup d’etat before a civilian court, the problem of double jeopardy might arise.

If President Arroyo is interested in having the errant soldiers (especially the core plotters or officers) charged with coup d’etat, she must make sure the military does not beat the civilian prosecutors to the draw.

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MRT-7 COMING UP: With the economy taking a beating, meantime, the administration is reportedly set to fast-track a $1.4-billion integrated highway-lightrail-housing project that will connect Bulacan to Quezon City via a new highway to Tala, Caloocan, and an elevated lightrail from Tala to North Ave.-EDSA.

Called MRT-7, the P77-billion project has been endorsed by Transportation Secretary Leandro R. Mendoza to Economic Planning Secretary Romulo Neri after more than two years of studying the plans.

Behind the project is the Universal LRT Corporation Consortium consisting of Alstom Transportation of France (the world’s second largest transportation system provider); Alstom Signalling of the US; Redfort Assets Ltd. (representing SM Investment Corp., Banco de Oro Capital & Investment Corp. and PentaCapital Management Corp.); the Merlin Pacific Capital Inc. Group; Earth Tech (a member of the Tyco International Group of the US); Engineering Equipment Inc. (a member of the Yuchengco Group); TCGI Engineers; and E.L. International Holdings Group and other Israeli investors.

Chairman of the consortium is Roberto F. de Ocampo, president of the Asian Institute of Management.

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BENEFITS CITED: The main beneficiaries of the new mixed road-rail route are commuters from Bulacan, Novaliches and Fairview.

From the North Luzon Expressway in Bulacan, a private highway will be built eastward to Tala, where a transfer station connects the road to the elevated railway terminating near SM City on North Ave., QC.

From QC, commuters can then transfer to the MRT-3 running on EDSA from North Ave. to Taft Ave. in Pasay City, or to the proposed elevated lightrail from North Ave. to Monumento in Caloocan City.

The proponents plan a high-rise housing complex near the Tala hub. The first phase consists of towers with units of 36-50-sqm. each. Its target beneficiaries include policemen, soldiers and other government employees. It would have schools, a church, a primary care hospital and recreational facilities.

Studies show that buses from the North expressway and the old MacArthur highway would number more than 15,000 a day in five years. There would also be some 52,000 cars/jeepneys. The proponents said that MRT-7 would ease the expected traffic congestion.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 12, 2003)

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