MANILA — The Court of Appeals has affirmed the ruling of a Makati court dismissing the coup d’etat charge against former senator Antonio Trillanes IV and denying the Duterte administration’s bid to arrest him after the President revoked his amnesty in 2018.
In a 67-page ruling dated May 31, the CA Special Eleventh Division said Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148 Judge Andres Soriano did not commit grave abuse of discretion in issuing the orders which refused to issue an arrest warrant and hold departure order against Trillanes.
The Court, through Associate Justice Edwin Sorongon, said that while a conditional amnesty such as the one given to Trillanes may be revoked, “there must be a factual basis for the nullification or revocation of a conditional amnesty.”
It gave weight to factual findings of the Makati trial court that Trillanes had complied with the conditions for his application of amnesty. Hence, there was no valid revocation.
The Makati court dismissed the coup d’etat charge in September 2011 based on the amnesty granted by then President Benigno Aquino III to Trillanes.
It took 7 years before the Duterte administration revoked his amnesty in 2018 supposedly because Trillanes did not apply for amnesty and because he allegedly refused to admit his guilt. Trillanes is an outspoken administration critic.
The court took note of the testimony of a journalist who was present during Trillanes’ filing of his application and taking of oath before an Armed Forces officer, as well as numerous other testimonies and documents submitted by Trillanes, which showed that he filed his application and admitted his guilt.
“Contrary to petitioner's asseverations, the evidence tends to show that private respondent complied with the said conditions by filing his application for amnesty, and admitting his guilt for the crimes enumerated under Proclamation No. 75. Therefore, it cannot be said that the grant of amnesty in favor of private respondent was validly revoked,” the court said.
“As a result, the charges against private respondent in connection with the offenses ‘forgotten’ or forgiven by the amnesty must be necessarily dropped,” it explained.
The government had cited the unavailability of Trillanes’ amnesty application as basis to say he did not apply, but the CA said the former senator should not be faulted for its loss while in the custody of a public officer.
“Lamentable as it is, since this entire controversy is anchored on the purported inexistence of this application form, it would be certainly unfair, however, if private respondent or any other applicant-grantee for that matter would be allowed to suffer the consequences of the negligence or inefficiency of said public officer or office,” it said.
There being no valid revocation of Trillanes' amnesty, the CA said the 2011 Makati RTC ruling dismissing the coup d'etat case remains valid as it was based on amnesty as a ground for total extinction of a person’s criminal liability under the Revised Penal Code.
It added that a final judgment is “immutable and unalterable” unless if it is a void judgment.
Meanwhile, the CA took notice of a March 25, 2015 CA decision acquitting 2 of Trillanes’ former co-accused in the coup d’etat case.
Although Trillanes was no longer part of that case, the court extended the benefit of the ruling to him and the rest of their companions.
2ND CA CASE JUNKED
The CA ruling in favor of Trillanes over his coup d’etat case comes 3 months after the court also junked the revived rebellion case against him, which was heard before Makati RTC 150 under Judge Elmo Alameda.
The new ruling noted the applicability of the March CA rebellion ruling to the coup d’etat case and cited at length its discussion on amnesty as well as the validity of Proclamation No. 75, which granted Trillanes’ amnesty.
CONSTITUTIONALITY OF PROCLAMATION NO. 572
The same CA also took the same approach Soriano did in his ruling — upholding the constitutionality of the President’s Proclamation No 572.
“The general grant of amnesty by Proclamation No. 75 was not revoked or repealed by Proclamation No. 572. Only the individualized grant to the petitioner was revoked,” it said, meaning what was meant to be revoked by Proclamation 572 was only with respect to Trillanes’ amnesty.
The CA said Proclamation No. 572 was not an undue usurpation of judicial power as it did not void the previous proclamation granting Trillanes amnesty but was only the President’s exercise of control over the executive department.
Neither did it violate Trillanes’ rights to due process and equal protection of the law, the court said, 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 rejected arguments that Proclamation No. 572 placed Trillanes under double jeopardy or is an ex post facto law or a bill of attainder — all prohibited under the Bill of Rights.
The Court noted it was Trillanes himself who moved for the dismissal of his case, thus, a key requirement for double jeopardy was not met.
The CA, reiterating its ruling in the rebellion case, 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.
CA CHIDES SOLGEN
The ruling also chided the Office of the Solicitor General for its position on the validity of Proclamation No. 75.
“Here, petitioner essentially invoked before the RTC the provisions of Proclamation No. 75 in arguing that private respondent failed to meet the conditions set therein, only to double back on itself before this Court, and argue at the end of its Petition that ‘the grant of amnesty to private respondent and his co-accused cannot withstand judicial scrutiny,’” it said.
“This Court cannot comprehend the mental calisthenics entailed by the janus-faced position petitioner assumed in this case. Why would it invoke the provisions of a proclamation which it would later on claim to be invalid due to being unconstitutional? Indeed, the alleged unconstitutionality of Proclamation No. 75 should have been raised in the RTC,” it added.
In a statement, Trillanes thanked both the Court of Appeals and the Makati judge.
“Nagpapasalamat ako sa mga Court of Appeals Justices sa pagtataguyod ng hustisya sa gitna ng mga baluktot na paggamit ni Duterte ng batas laban sa mga miyembro ng oposisyon,” he said.
“Nagpapasalamat din akong muli kay Judge Andres Soriano sa kanyang pagtindig para sa tama at salungat sa mga panggigipit ng Duterte administration,” he added.
Soriano was the same judge who recently convicted Trillanes of libel in the case filed by former Makati Mayor Junjun Binay over his 2015 statements linking the former mayor to “justice for sale.”
Trillanes has said he would appeal that ruling.