MANILA - The amnesty granted to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was void "as if it never existed," Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said Tuesday amid the impending arrest of one of the administration's most vocal critics.
In a press conference, Guevarra explained that while President Rodrigo Duterte's proclamation is a "revocation" of the amnesty by title, the text clearly states that it has nullified the amnesty, rendering it void from the moment it was issued.
"While the title indicates a revocation, the contents of the proclamation would show that it actually nullified or void ab initio the amnesty as if it never existed. Binalewala ito (this was set aside) as if it never existed. It's a declaration that it was void from the moment it was issued," he told reporters.
Guevarra, who Duterte appointed as officer-in-charge of the national government while he is on an official visit in Israel, said Trillanes failed to comply with two requirements for an amnesty: a formal application under oath and admission of guilt.
Trillanes earlier denied this claim, saying he had met all the requirements for amnesty when it was granted him with the concurrence of Congress in 2011. But the Justice Secretary said the burden of proving that is on the senator.
Trillanes, a former Navy lieutenant, is facing charges including coup d'etat for leading uprisings against the government in 2003 and 2007, during the administration of then President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
"Let him just show it. What we're saying is the requirement of an application under oath does not exist in the records and there are no records either of his admission of guilt on his part for the charges filed against him," he said.
Gueverra said the proclamation also directs authorities, particularly the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to arrest Trillanes. The Senator had said he is ready to face arrest and vowed to fight what he called a "bogus revocation" of his amnesty.
The justice chief also said Trillanes may not invoke legislative immunity. He explained that this immunity only covers offenses that are punishable by imprisonment of not more than 6 years. Involvement in coup d'etat carries a longer prison term.
"Why the AFP? Because apart from the criminal complaint pending before a Makati trial court, mayroon ding (there are also) court martial proceedings ongoing on the matter," he said.
Guevarra also emphasized that the review of the amnesty given to Trillanes "has been there for quite some time" and that the decision to issue the proclamation did not happen overnight, though he has no information what prompted the review.
As a Navy lieutenant, Trillanes and his Magdalo band of soldiers and junior officers occupied the Oakwood Hotel in 2003 and the Manila Peninsula Hotel in 2007 to protest alleged corruption under Arroyo.
Trillanes won a seat in the Senate in 2007, campaigning from detention. He was reelected in 2013.
Arroyo, meanwhile, won a seat at the House of Representatives in 2010 after she stepped down as president. She was reelected in 2013 while under hospital arrest for charges of electoral sabotage. In 2018, she became House Speaker in a controversial "coup."