[ANALYSIS] Voiding Trillanes' amnesty: Illegal, unwise, immoral

We seem to be inexorably sliding towards an extraconstitutional regime

Tony La Viña

1:0:0am September 5, 2018

11:13:1pm September 5, 2018

In issuing Proclamation No. 572, the President revoked the amnesty granted to Senator Sonny Trillanes for being void ab initio on the ground that he did not comply with the "minimum requirements to qualify under the amnesty proclamation."

The Proclamation cited a certification from the Armed Forces of the Philippines' Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Personnel that there is no available copy of Trillanes' application for amnesty, and that he refused to admit his guilt. Much like Sereno who was booted out of office after her appointment was declared void ab initio, Trillanes now finds himself under threat of arrest after his amnesty proclamation is being revoked for the same reason.

A patent illegality

The revocation of the Trillanes amnesty is  illegal. Without any doubt, Proclamation 572 is a patent illegality, if not outright unconstitutional. It is riddled with legal loopholes to such an extent that it gives the unmistakable impression that it has been dished out for no other reason than to silence a staunch and implacable critic of the President.

Proclamation 75, under which Senator Trillanes applied for amnesty in connection with his involvement in the Oakwood mutiny, was processed by the military, approved by then president Benigno Aquino III, and concurred in by Congress.

Unlike pardon, amnesty looks backward and abolishes and puts into oblivion the offense itself, it so overlooks and obliterates the offense with which Trillanes was charged that he, being released by amnesty, stands before the law precisely as though he had committed no offense. There is no question that Trillanes is a grantee of a valid amnesty proclamation, as such his criminal liability was fully extinguished.

Contrary to the President’s statement that Trillanes did not submit an application and a copy of which cannot be found in the Requirement Room, there is ample evidence that this application was in fact submitted. Abigail Valte, a spokesperson of former President Aquino, in fact shared on Twitter a photo of Trillanes' amnesty application and a video of the document's filing.

Even assuming that a copy of the application could not be found, can the presumption of regularity at least be held in favor of the officials who issued, processed, and had custody of his amnesty application? Same goes with Trillanes’ admission of guilt which, prior to the issuance of Proclamation 572, had never been questioned nor put under scrutiny by the previous administrations.

The Proclamation tethers as an ex post facto law for ostensibly inflicting punishment upon Trillanes for an act done prior to its issuance when before the eyes of the law, he has not committed any crime. It is akin to a bill of attainder which singles out the opposition senator for punishment without trial. Both are proscribed under the Constitution and have no place in a democratic and civilized society.

It should also be noted that an amnesty is not a unilateral act by the President. Granting it required congressional concurrence. This is to make sure the whole government, indeed the country, is bound that decision. It cannot be undone by the presidential fiat.

That the President is ordering the immediate arrest of Trillanes, a civilian, is another reason to declare the Proclamation illegal. We all know that a warrant to arrest an individual can only be issued by the courts. The President is but the chief implementor or executive and is not vested under the Constitution with judicial powers. Hence, he cannot simply order the arrest of an individual whimsically, without a judicial fiat.

The courts on the other hand cannot issue an arrest warrant for cases that have already been dismissed by virtue of the amnesty.

An unwise policy

The revocation of the Trillanes amnesty is not right for the country long-term. Indeed, policy-wise, the revocation of any amnesty is disastrous for a country riven by social conflicts. Time and again, political amnesties have been resorted to as a means of healing social and national strife.

In the Philippine-American war, as the hostilities wound down, amnesty was resorted to so that everyone would have an option to come down from the hills. After World War II, even as it was controversial, amnesty was offered even to collaborators with the Japanese so the country could move on. In the 1960s and 1970s, and even during the Martial Law era, amnesties were resorted to bring the Huks, Moro rebels, and other groups back to the fold of the law.

More recently, members of the Moro National Liberation Front, the Cordillera People’s Liberation Army, several left-wing groups independent of the Communist Party of the Philippines, and military rebels were granted amnesty. In the future, amnesty has to be granted to the Moro Islamic Liberation Front as well as the cadres and combatants of the Communist Party of the Philippines, New People’s Army, and National Democratic Front of the Philippines if a permanent peace settlement is achieved with the latter groups.

As far as I know, there has never been an instance when amnesty given by one president has been revoked by a subsequent president. If this becomes a rule, future presidents would have lost an important tool for national healing and unity. Who would trust any president who makes promises to rebel groups if his or her successor could at a whim revoke an amnesty?

Immoral and unjust

The revocation of the Trillanes amnesty is evil. It is immoral and unjust because it is done for a personal reason, for partisan political motives, and not for the good of the country.

Most of President Duterte’s most vociferous critics have been silenced or are in danger of being silenced. First on the chopping block was Senator Leila de Lima who had the misfortune of initiating an investigation against then mayor Duterte for supposed human rights violations when she was still the head of the Commission on Human Rights.

Then the Commission on Human Rights itself was attacked when it questioned the President’s prosecution of the war on drugs, the administration’s centerpiece campaign. His allies in Congress made an attempt to emasculate the constitutional body with a paltry P1,000-budget. Fortunately, this attempt proved too blatant even for administration allies. Then came former chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno who had to go after she was ousted under dubious circumstances by her own colleagues via a quo warranto conviction.

Vice President Leni Robredo’s position is also under threat because of a pending electoral protest before the Supreme Court sitting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal. Of course, we all have been witness to the verbal attacks made by no less than Duterte against the Catholic Church, the President’s favorite whipping boy, which remains an influential institution in the country.

So, it is no small wonder that Senator Trillanes, President Duterte’s nemesis, would be targeted next. If at all, it is a cause of wonderment why it took this government so long, more than two years, to make its move. It may be because the senator proved to be the hardest nut to crack of all the lot.

Considering all the recent actions being undertaken by this administration to stifle any and all opposition and critics, coupled with the President’s chilling pronouncements giving preference to a dictatorship or a military junta over the Vice President, as the mandated Constitutional successor, one cannot help but entertain the thought that we are inexorably sliding towards an extraconstitutional regime.

Is a repeat of the Marcos dictatorial regime in the offing? After Trillanes, who’s next? The prospects are simply too chilling to contemplate. – Rappler.com