WITH the demolition crew of President Duterte relentlessly battering opposition senator Antonio Trillanes, the military mutineer has started to look like a political martyr with presidential possibilities.
Trillanes has been arrested, booked (released on bail) and his dismissed rebellion/coup cases reopened while other violations are being researched for addition to the pile. A libel suit, btw, has been filed against him in Davao City, the Duterte home base.
The former navy officer remains defiant, not a strand of his neatly combed hair out of place – a sharp contrast to a defeated Trillanes being dragged out by the belt by a police general from the Peninsula hotel in Makati that his band of rebel soldiers forcibly occupied in 2007.
If Duterte does not temper what is beginning to look like an overkill, the 47-year-old Trillanes might just emerge as the unflinching figure that the opposition needs to fire up its lackluster campaign to topple the tired 73-year-old President.
Trillanes now has to face the same rebellion/coup charges already dismissed in 2011 by the Makati regional trial court as a result of Proclamation 75 granting amnesty — with the concurrence of the Congress — to him and 94 other mutineers.
The granting of amnesty was the culmination of a multi-step process that must have satisfied Judge Elmo Alameda of Makati RTC Branch 150 and another judge in Branch 148 enough to dismiss the charges.
We still cannot see why the same Alameda who had dismissed the cases upon being convinced of the solid legal basis somersaulted this week and has now reopened them. Was pressure applied on him?
Note that Trillanes, after he was set free and allowed to take his seat as senator, soon challenged Duterte to open for scrutiny his bank accounts and later said that the President was coddling drug lords and smugglers.
He then took on Solicitor General Jose Calida, questioning his multimillion-peso business deals with the government and raising conflict of interest issues.
Calida raked up the senator’s amnesty record (in the same way that he reviewed the appointment of then Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, another Duterte pet peeve) to find basis for voiding his amnesty (as he also did earlier to void Sereno’s appointment).
In both the Trillanes and the Sereno cases, Calida’s main line of attack was on missing basic documents — (a) the senator’s application for amnesty with his sworn admission of guilt, and (b) the Chief Justice’s statements of assets and liabilities or SALNs.
The novel “void ab initio” tack of Calida fascinates lawyers, but confounds laymen who cannot understand why a case long concluded with finality after a tortuous trial is again reopened on the ground that some documents are missing.
There was a recent news story on Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana recalling Calida calling him to get permission for his staff to go through the amnesty papers of the mutineers. The secretary gave permission.
It was learned later in the to-and-fro of the debate that among the missing vital papers were the amnesty application and sworn admission of guilt of Trillanes — the focal point of Calida’s interest. Who got them?
On Aug. 31, President Duterte issued Proclamation 572 voiding Trillanes’ amnesty ab initio (from the start) since, he was told by Calida, the basic documents could not be found. He credited Calida’s central role in the case development.
But why has the burden of producing the papers fallen on the individual whose amnesty application has been approved with the concurrence of the Congress? If at all, the defense department or military custodian of the records should be liable for infidelity — not the applicant.
That infidelity point alone, aggravated by the selective non-prosecution of other persons similarly situated, has raised related issues that add to the suspicion that only Trillanes, who had dared to cross the President, is being made to pay – very dearly — for his impudence.
If mishandled by Duterte’s hounds, the prosecution of the senator may be seen soon as persecution of another targeted foe. That could inadvertently boost Trillanes’ political stock to presidential proportions. We hope not.
• ‘Red October’ an unlikely scenario
PRESIDENT Duterte disclosed days ago in Jolo that some sectors in the military had been in conspiracy talks with the political opposition for his overthrow.
Even if that were true, we would have wanted the Commander-in-Chief to keep it a secret until he has neutralized the plot. His talking of dissension in the armed forces – assigned by the Constitution as the “protector of the people and the State” – is disturbing.
But then, Duterte, a veteran of many incidents of violence, may have been just playing a tactical floating of rumors of supposed recalcitrant solders. He could have been fishing for telltale reactions when he told the troops at Camp Teodulfo Bautista:
“I was hurt because some people in the military are communicating with the Liberal Party, those rebel soldiers. I can’t understand their loyalty.
“That’s my ill feeling toward those soldiers. I don’t mind if they get angry with me. That’s nothing. But to be in cahoots with the enemy? I can step down anytime. But the problem is the nation… If you are true to your country, do not bed with the enemy.”
Even now speculations are rife about Trillanes’ group having significant sympathizers in the armed forces who could join any military move to step in if/when they sense that the President, especially now that he looks sick, is losing control.
Intelligence officers have been talking of a “Red October” destabilization plan calculated to escalate into a power grab next month. But the alleged conspirators – the Liberal Party, the Magdalo Party (of Trillanes) and the Communist Party – look to us as an unlikely triumvirate.
We cannot imagine the political opposition trusting the communists enough to plot with them a putsch and power-sharing arrangement. We are not inclined to buy the “Red October” scenario being peddled.