Court of Appeals junks revived rebellion case vs Trillanes

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 02 2021 01:29 PM | Updated as of Mar 02 2021 05:10 PM

Then senator Antonio Trillanes IV talks to the media during a “Kapihan” session at the Philippine Senate in Pasay City on June 06, 2019. George Calvelo, ABS-CBN News

CA rules revocation of conditional amnesty should go through proper judicial inquiry

MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — The Court of Appeals has junked the rebellion case against former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, which a Makati court revived following President Rodrigo Duterte’s revocation of his amnesty in 2018.

In a decision dated March 1, 2021, the CA Sixth Division overturned for "grave abuse of discretion" orders of Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 150 Judge Elmo Alameda, who had reinstated the rebellion case against Trillanes, an outspoken Duterte critic.

“The respondent court committed grave abuse of discretion when, without taking ample time to pause and ponder, whether or not it retained jurisdiction, summarily and cursorily considered the Omnibus Motion upon a matter involving a criminal action that it has long-ago dismissed. It acted with grave abuse of discretion that amounted to excess of jurisdiction, thus ousting it of jurisdiction, when it shunned testimonial evidence,” the CA, through Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas, Jr., said in its 59-page decision.

CA Associate Justices Marie Christine Azcarraga-Jacob and Angelene Mary Quimpo-Sale concurred in the ruling.

Duterte’s revocation of Trillanes’ amnesty in 2018 led to a standoff with the former lawmaker holed up in the Senate for weeks after top government officials threatened him with arrest.

Trillanes on Tuesday welcomed the court's decision, saying the "rule of law prevailed."

"Nagpapasalamat ako sa mga CA justices na gumawa ng desisyong ito. Sana all na judges and justices ay may ganitong sense of justice to check the prevailing authoritarianism in the country," he said in a statement.

(I thank the CA justices who wrote this decision. I hope all judges and justices have the same sense of justice to check the prevailing authoritarianism in the country.)

It was the Department of Justice who filed an omnibus motion to revive both the rebellion case against Trillanes in Makati RTC 150 and the coup d’etat case in Makati RTC 148. 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he leaves it to the Office of the Solicitor General "to determine the appropriate legal remedy" to the CA decision.

This may "include a motion for reconsideration with the Court of Appeals or a petition for review with the Supreme Court," he said.

Judge Andres Soriano of Makati RTC 148 denied the DOJ’s bid to revive the coup d’etat case against Trillanes while Alameda granted it.

The CA took note of the contrasting rulings, saying Branch 148 took the time to hear the evidence in full while Branch 150 conducted summary hearings, relying instead on the same position asserted by the DOJ that since the order junking the rebellion case was supposedly void, the doctrine of immutability of judgment or final order did not apply. 

That doctrine simply means a decision which becomes final can no longer be modified.

Alameda disregarded this doctrine and in effect declared his previous order void to reinstate the rebellion case. He was the same judge who dismissed the rebellion case in 2011 after Trillanes submitted a certificate of amnesty granted by then President Benigno Aquino III.

The CA considered the grant of amnesty to Trillanes as a “conditional amnesty” subject to compliance with certain conditions before or after the grant of amnesty.

While the grant of a conditional amnesty may be revoked if conditions are not met which, in turn, could void a judgment dismissing a criminal action, the revocation, the CA ruled, should go through proper judicial inquiry with opportunity for parties to be heard.

The CA said that any action to challenge a void judgment must go through the proper procedure and should be filed with the proper tribunal, noting that the prosecution should have filed an action for annulment or relief from the September 2011 order dismissing the case or moved for the issuance of a writ of certiorari to invalidate the same order.

The CA also ruled the DOJ cannot just file a motion to attack the September 2011 order in the same proceeding as that would put “no end to litigation” and grant the trial court “perpetual jurisdiction over a case” rendering useless the doctrine of immutability of final judgments.

The CA took Judge Alameda to task for conducting a summary hearing through affidavits and documents despite Trillanes’ requests that he be allowed to present all his evidence and subpoena his witnesses.

“To the Court, the denial of the petitioner’s [Trillanes’] request to be given reasonable opportunity to adduce evidence and present testimonies of his witnesses deprived him of procedural due process,” it said, explaining that the peculiar circumstances of the case, including the factual bases for Duterte’s Proclamation No. 572 revoking Trillanes’ amnesty, required a “full, evidentiary hearing.”

“The novelty of the issues presented also warranted a closer and deeper inquiry. Fundamentally, providing the parties the opportunity to present their evidence is essential before the respondent court can reasonably determine the novel issues and factual matters that were raised,” it added.

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The CA pointed out that Branch 148 received documentary and testimonial evidence from the former chair of the Department of Defense Ad Hoc Amnesty Committee and the head of the committee’s secretariat and others who witnessed Trillanes file his application, while Branch 150 only heard oral arguments and received affidavits.

The CA also highlighted the different appreciation of both courts of the certificate of amnesty and the certification that while Trillanes’ amnesty was granted, no copy of his application was found in the records.

“The same fact patterns upon the same set of rules, when evaluated, should generally and predictably elicit the same results regardless of who conducts the evaluation or how many evaluators there may be, but in the case of the petitioner, two divergent outcomes came out,” it said.

“We are of the view that, had only one approach been taken, one that allowed the reception of evidence in full measure, common answers to common questions of facts would have been elicited. Proper use of the rules of evidence would have reflected the appropriate appreciation of the admissibility, weight and sufficiency of the Certificate of Amnesty, Certification, and Proclamation No. 572, among other pieces of evidence.

The CA ruling, however, did not invalidate Proclamation No. 572, saying it did not violate Trillanes’ rights to due process and equal protection since the proclamation by itself did not authorize his arrest and the supposed reason for singling him out was based on a valid and substantial distinction — his alleged non-compliance with the conditions of his amnesty.

It also said Trillanes himself moved for the dismissal of his case, thus a key requirement for double jeopardy was not met. The Constitution prohibits charging anew a person whose criminal case was already terminated either by acquittal or conviction without his consent.

The CA also said Proclamation 572 could not be a bill of attainder as it is an executive act, not a legislative action and neither could it be an ex post facto law since it is not a penal act which metes out penalty for a crime. 

A bill of attainder inflicts punishment without trial while an ex post facto law punishes an act which was not yet a crime at the time it was committed.

Trillanes, a former Navy officer, and his Magdalo band of soldiers and junior officers, occupied the Oakwood Hotel in Makati City in 2003 and the Manila Peninsula Hotel in 2007 to protest alleged corruption under then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. 

He was detained for 7 years before he was granted amnesty in 2011 by then President Benigno Aquino III.