Rough Cuts: Turmoil in the legal community

The circumstances surrounding the voiding by Malacanang of the amnesty given to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV look very familiar even as it is closely similar to the ones leading to the filing of a Quo Warranty case against then Chief Justice Ma. Lourdes Sereno who was eventually ousted by her peers at the Supreme Court.

Yes, this already chilling phrase void Ab Initio or void from the beginning has become some kind of the Damocles sword to some people occupying critical positions in government.

In other words, we suspect that it is possible the filing of a Quo Warranto case against the ousted CJ Sereno was a test case for Malacanang that has evolved into a precedent jurisprudence to be referred to in cases against officials who may be similarly situated.

We now feel with some degree of certainty that the granting of the Quo Warranto petition filed by Solicitor General Jose Calida is now being used as basis for the issuance of the Presidential Proclamation voiding the grant of amnesty to Senator Trillanes IV. Trillanes and his Magdalo group were charged with offenses like coup d’etat by the administration of then President and now Speaker of the House Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He and his followers were also facing court martial proceedings. All these were offshoots of Trillanes group’s Oakwood mutiny, Manila Peninsula occupation, and their participation in the so-called Marine stand-off supposedly to manifest their disdain on the corruption in the Armed Forces and the government. In 2011 they were given amnesty by then President Benigno Simeon Aquino III.

In the withdrawal of the Trillanes amnesty the Presidential Proclamation cited as primary reason the amnestied senator’s failure to comply with the main requirements of the grant of amnesty. And these are his supposed non-submission of application for amnesty, and his continued non-admission of the crimes charged against him and his group. This citation in the Presidential Proclamation is buttressed by sworn statements by officials of government offices that are the repository of such documents.

Explaining the proclamation further Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said that without any copy of sworn documents anent the compliance of primary requirements the Aquino grant of amnesty to Trillanes, even if concurred by Congress, could not be held effective right from the start. So Malacanang lawyers, no doubt with substantial inputs from the SolGen and reference to the successful Quo Warranto petition against Sereno, may have confidently given the President the go-signal to void the Trillanes amnesty.

Another condition that is considered built-in in any amnesty grant is that the beneficiary of such act is deemed to have committed not to repeat the crime he is presumed to have committed, or do anything that is prejudicial to the government or the general public. And this, according to Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo in a television interview over GMA’s Unang Hirit last Wednesday morning, Senator Trillanes continues to ignore. Panelo added that Trillanes keeps his unsubstantiated attacks against both the administration and the person of the President to the point of already committing sedition.

Meanwhile, Trillanes is insisting that he has complied with all the conditions of the amnesty grant except the crime charged against him and his group which is mounting coup d’etats against then President Arroyo’s government.

In media interviews the senator, showing a military man’s composure, said that the clearest proof of his and his group’s compliance of the amnesty requirements is the amnesty itself. According to Trillanes the amnesty would not have been granted at all if he and his group did not apply for it. And it is the same reason why Congress concurred the Aquino proclamation, Trillanes told media in an ambush interview in the Senate.

As to his vehement attacks on Duterte and his administration the senator showed no qualm in saying he is merely doing his job as an opposition and as the people’s watchdog against the excesses and the “dictatorial tendency” of the Duterte leadership. Commenting on the voiding of the amnesty grant for him he waxes defiance saying that he is not afraid of Duterte and that what the President is doing is clear political persecution against those who dare to cross sword with him.

From where we are perched we are seeing the polarization of people on this issue. There are brewing debates as to the constitutionality of the Duterte proclamation with arguments presented clearly defining where those engaged in the discussion of the issue stand.

And surely, when this matter is brought to the lap of the Supreme Court to have the issue of constitutionality resolved, the issue would probably get even hotter, depending on how the High Court decides on the matter.

Imagine the assertion of administration critics that the Sereno ouster was orchestrated by Malacanang, and that the appointment of CJ Teresita Leonardo de Castro is a “reward” for her manifest dislike of the ousted former Chief Justice!

Already, there are insinuations and intrigues that De Castro’s appointment is Malacanang’s elaborate preparation for the voiding of the Trillanes amnesty.

Indeed, the legal community of the country is again put into the vortex of a turmoil the final resolution of which may cause sleepless nights among lawyers — practitioners and those tasked to settle issues on laws and to dispense justice.

The current Trillanes amnesty voiding issue is worth every Filipino’s anxious waiting, even if it takes a much longer time.

Posted in Opinion