MANILA, Philippines—The promulgation of the decision on the coup d’etat case against detained Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and other rebel soldiers involved in the July 2003 Oakwood mutiny will proceed as scheduled on Oct. 28 despite President Benigno Aquino III’s amnesty proclamation.
This was disclosed Thursday by members of the staff of Judge Oscar Pimentel of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148 in the course of refusing a request from the Inquirer for an interview with the judge on the implication of Presidential Proclamation No. 50 on the case.
“He will not comment on the issue; maybe [he will] after Oct. 28,” the staff members said, adding that there had been no directive to cancel or change the date set for the promulgation.
“It will push through. The parties have also not submitted any motions to the court [in connection with the case],” they said.
Moot and academic
Asked to comment on the amnesty proclamation, Public Attorneys Office chief Persida Acosta said it would render the court’s verdict moot and academic once it is concurred in by the Senate and the House of Representatives.
Acosta said the defense panel could file a motion to suspend or defer the promulgation pending Congress’ concurrence in the amnesty proclamation.
“This will also give the judge a chance to give the President’s decision departmental and judicial courtesy,” she said.
But defense lawyer Ernesto Francisco Jr., who represents Navy Lieutenants Eugene Gonzalez, Andy Torrato and Manuel Cabochan, among others, said he saw no problem should the promulgation push through.
“The accused actually want the promulgation to happen because they are confident of acquittal,” Francisco said.
He added: “Unknown to many, the grant of amnesty is not automatic. There are certain proceedings for that. Those whom President Aquino said were covered by the amnesty should still have to apply for it at the Department of National Defense ... It will take time; I think the promulgation will come even before the entire amnesty proceedings happen.”
‘In good taste’
Sen. Franklin Drilon called on Judge Pimentel to “respect” Malacañang and Congress by deferring the promulgation, saying that doing so would “allow Congress time to work on the amnesty and concur in or reject [it].”
“I think it will be in good taste for the judiciary to defer action on this and give due deference to the President and Congress ...” Drilon said at a press conference.
The senator pointed out that granting amnesty was a political act, and that whether the court would acquit or convict Trillanes was irrelevant and a separate matter.
And even if Trillanes is found guilty by the court, the grant of amnesty will render the verdict moot, Drilon said, adding:
“The moment the amnesty [proclamation] is approved and the moment those charged have applied and their applications have been accepted, they can no longer be convicted.
Canceling out each other
“Amnesty has the effect of extinguishing criminal liability. Even assuming that they are convicted, the conviction is not final and, therefore, amnesty will make the conviction academic.”
And even if the court hands down a guilty verdict, the penalty of absolute ban from public office will not stick because Trillanes can file a motion for reconsideration (MR), according to Sen. Francis Escudero.
“An MR will not make the verdict final and, therefore, the amnesty will still be effective ... It just doesn’t look good that coequal branches of government will cancel out each other,” Escudero said in a phone interview.
Occasion for review
The Senate is to hold its first hearing on Proclamation No. 50 on Oct. 18.
Drilon said it would give senators the opportunity to review some of the provisions in the proclamation: “For example, why are officers not allowed to go back to active service whereas ordinary soldiers are? How many will be entitled to [reinstatement]? Are any of those charged in the previous coup d’etat cases disqualified?”
He said he was among the 17 senators who signed the resolution calling for the grant of amnesty to Trillanes, “but we would like to find out what are the parameters of this amnesty and, in the past, amnesty proclamations were subject to hearings.”
“I have to cast a vote, and I want to cast a vote on educated information. I don’t think the Senate should be a stamping pad of Malacañang,” Drilon said.
He also denied that the President and Congress would be interfering in the judicial process by granting Trillanes amnesty even if the court had yet to arrive at a decision on the latter’s case.
Tina Santos & Gil Cabacungan, Phil. Daily Inquirer