POSTSCRIPT / October 14, 2010 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Mutiny is all right if it’s against GMA?

WHAT IF?: If a cabal of military officers and men mutinied in a failed bid to overthrow HIS administration, willPresident Noynoy Aquino grant them amnesty like he did some 300 soldiers who had staged armed revolts again his predecessor?

The question begs an answer with Mr. Aquino’s having signed Amnesty Proclamation No. 50 wiping away all guilt and liability for the armed participants in three military uprisings from 2003 to 2007 against President Gloria Arroyo.

Put another way, is it all right to revolt against President Aquino’s predecessor but not against him?

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COURTS CAST ASIDE: What happens if the courts that have taken exclusive jurisdiction over the criminal cases against key mutineers now follow due process and, before the amnesty proclamation becomes final, convict some of the rebel officers?

The proclamation takes effect only after both chambers of the Congress shall have concurred with it. That takes time. Until now, it is just a piece of paper no different from a press release.

It is within the power of the President to grant amnesty under certain circumstances. But there is something odd with the Chief Executive’s usurping an ongoing judicial process, dispensing with the usual hearings, jumping into a judgment and acquitting the accused by way of an amnesty.

Of course that makes Mr. Aquino popular with military rebels, especially those who regard themselves as the only savior of the Ship of State when it is in danger of foundering.

But for how long? What happens if and when he displeases the same military rebels? Or if he fails to live up to their peculiar expectations?

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IT’S POLITICS: Many observers are shaking their heads, saying that amnesty for military adventurers who had tried to overthrow the government leaves a bad political taste in the mouth.

The popularity or unpopularity of the previous Arroyo administration – which is a political issue — is irrelevant to the mutiny and related cases that are properly covered by the Articles of War and the Penal Code.

Assuming the previous administration was unpopular, how is the loathing measured? At what level of discontent is it right and timely for our self-proclaimed military saviors to stage a mutiny and grab state powers?

The measurement of discontent and the corresponding corrective action are so tenuous that the framers of ourConstitution thought it best to define due process and lay down a detailed rule of succession.

Anything outside that constitutional process is anathema, especially if it involves the use of force.

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BIG GUNS: The amnesty proclamation covers detained Navy officer Antonio Trillanes IV, who led the so-called Oakwood mutiny in 2003 for which he is facing criminal charges. Amnesty would allow him finally to report to the Senate where he won a seat in 2007.

The proclamation also covers former Marine commandant Maj. Gen. Renato Miranda, Marine Col. Ariel Querubin and Army Scout Ranger chief Brig. Gen. Danilo Lim who played leading roles in the failed power grab in 2006.

Lim also joined Trillanes and other officers when they walked out of a court hearing in Makati in November 2007 and proceeded to occupy the Peninsula Manila hotel as leverage to force then President Arroyo’s resignation.

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STRICT CODE: Men in uniform are covered by a strict code tested and applied in war and peace. A soldier, much more an officer, does not blatantly defy and dishonor his commander and the institution he represents.

In times of war, mutineers and deserters are shot before they can do further harm. In normal times, with less pressure for taking corrective steps to address a mutinous situation, soldiers’ complaints are handled in a more relaxed manner.

One problem with the present problem is that cases are already in court, shielding them from interference by the President. If only out of inter-department courtesy, the Chief Executive should wait for the courts to render judgment.

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FOR TRILLANES: But even in case of conviction, among the presidential options still open is pardon. Why is Malacañang in a hurry to grant a preemptive blanket amnesty? Why cannot it wait?

In the first place, have the mutineers petitioned the President to grant them amnesty? If they did, that initiative has not been reported in the media.

Have the mutineers expressed in writing a penitent admission of wrongdoing and a firm-sounding resolve not to do it again?

If not, the logical conclusion is that Mr. Aquino agrees with their revolting against then President Arroyo.

That, or there is pressure from pro-administration senators for the President – their former colleague – to grant amnesty to Trillanes so he can take his seat and boost their number.

But since selective amnesty may be difficult to defend, they must have decided to grant an omnibus amnesty for the whole bunch.

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DOUBLE STANDARDS: The Aquino administration would find wider acceptance for its unusual twists and turns if it could be more consistent and true.

For instance, it ordered the mass removal of thousands of state personnel on the theory that they were co-terminus political appointees, but hundreds turned out to be career workers.

Their mass dismissal via an Executive Order was without case-specific cause and due process. Why? Because (1) the incoming President had no attachment to personnel he found at their desks when he took over, and (2) he had a horde of supporters waiting to take over.

But when DILG Undersecretary Rico Puno earned public displeasure for his role in the Aug. 23 hostage fiasco and his alleged link to jueteng, the President talked at great length about due process and his having to still look deeper into the allegations.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 14, 2010)

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