MANILA, Philippines — President Benigno S. Aquino III has granted amnesty to detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and about 300 soldiers charged with the failed coup attempts against the Arroyo administration.
However, Aquino’s amnesty proclamation needs the concurrence of both Houses of Congress to become effective.
The President signed Proclamation No. 50 last Monday “granting amnesty to active and former personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and their supporters who may have committed acts or omissions punishable under the Revised Penal Code, the Articles of War or other special law committed in connection with the Oakwood mutiny (July 27, 2003), the Marines standoff (February, 2006), and the Peninsula Manila Hotel siege (Nov. 29, 2007) and related incidents.”
But the Palace has yet to release the list of the soldiers covered by the amnesty.
“I signed it yesterday. We'll submit it to Congress for concurrence,” Aquino told reporters in a Trade and Industry event in Mandaluyong City on Tuesday morning.
Aquino said there is a need to declare amnesty in favor of the active and former personnel of the AFP and their supporters in order to promote an atmosphere conducive to the attainment of a just, comprehensive and enduring peace and in line with the government’s peace and reconciliation initiatives.
Covered by the amnesty are members of Magdalo group, an erstwhile military reformist group transformed into a nationwide socio-political movement. One of its members is Trillanes, who ran and won with Aquino for the Senate in 2007 under the banner of the Genuine Opposition (GO) coalition.
“He'll be covered,” Aquino said of Trillanes.
Military officer Capt. Nicanor Faeldon who had surrendered to the military just last July after more than two years in hiding after the Manila Peninsula takeover, can also apply for amnesty, Presidential Spokesperson Edwin Lacierda said.
“The process is there's a proclamation, the proclamation needs the concurrence of both chambers of Congress then it becomes a law. Department of National Defense will be processing the application for amnesty once we secure the concurrence of Congress…,” said Aquino who had volunteered the information of the granting of amnesty to the mutineers to reporters.
He said last Monday that he was studying the Senate Resolution No. 217 right after his press conference on the results of the Palace review of the Incident Investigation and Review Committee (IIRC) report on the August 23 hijacking incident in Manila which absolved his long-time pal Interior Secretary Rico Puno from any responsibility over the bungled police rescue of the hostages.
Section 4 of Proclamation No. 50 extinguishes any criminal liability for acts committed in relation to, in connection with, or incident to the July 27, 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, the February 2006 Marines standoff, and the November 29, 2007 Peninsula Manila siege without prejudice to the grantee’s civil liability for injuries or damages caused to private persons.
“Also the grant of amnesty shall also effect the restoration of civil and political rights of entitlement that may have been suspended, lost or adversely affected by virtue of an executive action and/or administrative criminal action or proceedings lodged against the grantee in connection with the subject incidents, including criminal conviction or any form, if any. All enlisted personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), on the other hand, whose applications for amnesty would be approved shall be entitled to reintegration or reinstatement, subject to existing laws and regulations.
“Officers of the AFP shall not be entitled to reintegration or reinstatement into the service,” Proclamation No. 50 stated while it shall reinstate the right of AFP personnel to retirement and separation benefits, if so qualified under existing laws and regulations at the same time of the commission of the acts for which the amnesty is extended.”
Senate, House ready to act
Senators led by Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile said the grant of amnesty to Trillanes and company is a good move and a welcome development.
Although some may disagree with the President’s decision, Enrile and Senators Joker Arroyo and Gregorio Honasan stressed that the grant of amnesty is a presidential prerogative granted by the Constitution.
On Tuesday afternoon, the Senate formally acted on the President Aquino’s proclamation.
With Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile presiding in Tuesday’s plenary session, the Senate referred Concurrent Resolution No. 3 concurring with the presidential amnesty to the Senate Committees on Rules, and on Peace and Reconciliation.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente C. Sotto III, author of the Senate concurrent resolution and chairman of the Committee on Rules, said the lead committee in the public inquiry into the amnesty is the Senate peace and reconciliation committee chaired by Sen. Teofisto L. Guingona III.
Guingona told Bulletin that he would conduct one or two hearings next week during the Senate recess where anyone who would manifest his or her opinion on the issue would be formally heard.
He said he wanted to hasten the termination of the hearings ‘’because I don’t want to drag this.’’
The Senate goes on a three-week recess starting this Thursday.
Asked if he would invite specific persons to his committee hearing, Guingona, a neophyte in the Upper House, said he confer with his colleagues yet.
Enrile expects that the Senate could concur with the President’s amnesty declaration.
“When it reaches the Senate, we will look into that very carefully because we don’t know how it will affect the morale of the armed forces. You can go against the government on adventurism and even be pardoned but I’m not going to question that. That is the right of the President,” Sen. Arroyo earlier said.
“Almost all historically since 1986, all those who went against the government had been granted amnesty without exception. We are the only country that does that,” Sen. Arroyo said.
He was the Executive Secretary of the late President Corazon C. Aquino who faced a series of coups by military rebels, including then Army Colonel Gregorio Honasan who is now a senator.
Honasan, himself, was given amnesty by former President Fidel V. Ramos.
Sen. Arroyo told Manila Bulletin that Aquino’s grant of amnesty to Trillanes is a “good move and I wholly support that.”
At the House of Representatives, a total 153 congressmen crossed partylines on Tuesday and assured
President Aquino of the Lower House’s concurrence to his declaration of amnesty to Trillanes and other active and former members of AFP and their supporters involved in alleged attempts to overthrow the Arroyo government.
Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. said the Lower House is expected to swiftly adopt House Resolution No. 524 as the chamber continues to work overtime for the second reading approval of the proposed 2011 budget of the national government.
“We’re thankful that he (President Aquino) has granted us amnesty. If there’ll be concurrence of Congress then we can move on,” said retired Col. Ariel Querubin, who will be among the beneficiaries of the declaration.
He added: “If there’ll be concurrence of Congress then we can move on. The junior officers can rebuild their stalled careers and we can file our formal retirement,” he said.
Authored by Deputy Speaker Lorenzo “Erin” Tanada, House resolution made the rounds among congressmen, with some 153 solons signing the measure.
However, opposition stalwart Rep. Mitos Magsaysay (Lakas-Kampi, Zambales) slammed Aquino’s motives in granting amnesty to soldiers implicated in the series of alleged bids to overthrow the Arroyo government.
Justice Secretary Leila de Lima said the court may proceed or not with the promulgation of the Oakwood mutiny this month as the amnesty granted by President Aquino needs concurrence of majority of the Congress to become effective and executory.
DoJ informed but not consulted
De Lima also said she was informed about the amnesty but was not consulted.
“I was informed there were discussions. As to the decision, nag-decide na pala. Di ko pa nakikita (referring to the proclamation). I was not part of the decision-making,” De Lima told reporters during the press briefing.
De Lima said she submitted confidential memorandum to the President about Senator Trillanes but not to the entire respondents in the mutiny case.
She said the President has the prerogative to grant the amnesty before or after the conviction.
“We all know that there has been a scheduled promulgation of the decision on the Trillanes case. If no concurrence came, nothing will prevent the court or judge from proceeding with the promulgation. Unless he also exercises some level of judicial restraint in the sense that we would just have to wait for the congressional concurrence,” she said.
Prosecutors handling the case said they were disappointment over the President’s proclamation absolving Trillanes and others.
“We are disappointed with the amnesty proclamation of the President absolving Trillanes et al for coup, Oakwood and Manila Pen siege. We are disappointed because we had wanted to know what the court will say,” Assistant Prosecutor Juan Pedro “JP” Navera said.
“We concede that these are political offenses but we have a problem with the timing. If you want to respect the rule of law, we should have waited for the promulgation. How do we explain to the witnesses that we have come to this?” he said.
“What if the decision is for acquittal? The amnesty predicts the conviction, I thought we wanted to find out the truth and we are in a period of truth-finding and truth-telling,” he stressed.
AFP, Magdalo welcome amnesty
The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) welcomed the decision of President Aquino to grant amnesty to soldiers involved in mutiny.
Speaking to reporters at Camp Aguinaldo, Brig. Gen. Jose Mabanta, Jr., Civil Relations Service (CRS) commander and AFP spokesman, said they have been informed that the President has already signed the amnesty papers and none of their officers and members is objecting to it.
“We respect the decision coming from commander-in-chief. We are certain that whatever his intent is, this is basically geared towards a lasting peace throughout the country,” Mabanta said.
A group of rebel soldiers also welcomed the amnesty, saying the Chief Executive’s decision will be of big help for more than 300 soldiers to start their lives anew.
Ashley Acedillo, spokesman of the Magdalo group, said they are now more optimistic that the amnesty signed by Aquino would pave the way for Senator Antonio Trillanes IV to be released from his detention at the Camp Crame in Quezon City and eventually perform his duty well as senator.
Trillanes, then Navy lieutenant senior grade (equivalent to captain), was among those who led the July 27, 2003 Oakwood mutiny along with 300 junior officers and enlisted personnel.
Legal but morally unsound
A noted academic and legal luminary on Tuesday said President Aquino’s proclamation granting amnesty to Sen. Trillanes and other soldiers involved in at least three attempts to overthrow the Arroyo administration “has legal basis, but morally unsound.”
Dean Amado Valdez of the University of the East College of Law said that Section 19, Article VII of the Constitution provides that the President has “the power to grant amnesty with the concurrence of a majority of all the members of the Congress.”
He said that unlike pardon, amnesty can be granted even prior to final conviction.
However, Valdez said it would have been more prudent for President Aquino to wait until the courts decide on the cases filed against Trillanes and several others in connection with the Oakwood mutiny in July 2003, the Marine standoff in February, 2006, and the Peninsula Manila seige in November, 2007.
“In terms of creating a culture of respect for the Constitution and the Rule of Law, it is unsound because it would give mixed signals to the people, especially those in the military that one can get away with military adventurism as long his act captures the imagination of the public, which gives it the semblance of being justified,” Valdez told Manila Bulletin in a phone interview.
“People must be reminded that there is a better option to air one’s grievances by still following the line of command, which the mainstream of the military has been consistently observing, as should be the case,” he added.
Valdez said that instead of granting amnesty to the putschists, the President has the option to pardon them, which may come after final conviction.
Valdez said the President could be sending the wrong signal to the armed forces with his proclamation granting amnesty to military adventurists. “The President should act as a statesman and look at not at the political advantage or benefit of Trillanes but look at building an institution to respect the rules and constitutional processes. In that way, he becomes a statesman which is what his office or position demands,” he said.
JC Bello Ruiz, Mario Casayuran & Ben Rosario