Trillanes’ revoked amnesty and September 21

Published September 21, 2018, 12:05 AM

by Charissa Luci-Atienza & Bernie Cahiles-Magkilat



Atty. Mel Sta. Maria
Atty. Mel Sta. Maria

There are a number of court decisions impacting the nation. One of them will be the resolution concerning the validity of President Duterte’s unilateral revocation of Senator Trillanes’ 2010 amnesty granted by President Benigno Aquino III, concurred in by Congress.

Amnesty erases politically motivated offenses committed against the state. Its validity should not be myopically decided on an application’s mere physical existence or on the propriety of a cabinet secretary’s signature which, constitutionally, signifies the President’s imprimatur.

With the concurrence of the two great government departments — the Executive and Congress — the Trillanes amnesty enjoys the highest presumption of constitutionality. Courts should not substitute their decision for a sovereign act-of-state which the people — represented by their elected officials — have granted.

All evidence, direct or circumstantial, pointing to the amnesty’s regularity must be accepted, all doubts resolved in favor of validity. The assumption must be that the executive, the legislature, and the grantees knew the facts, scope, limits of the situation and followed all requirements to implement a most crucial decision.

The burden is on those seeking the amnesty’s nullification to initially prove invalidity beyond reasonable doubt. It is wrong to have Senator Trillanes and other grantees first prove their applications and the amnesty’s propriety. That is not due process. That is arbitrariness not based on any rule of evidence.

To accept that the President can unilaterally void an amnesty despite the constitutional set-up making Congress as the other half of the granting power destroys our democratic check-and-balance system. Congress must agree to the annulment as its concurrence to the grant cannot be lightly set aside. Its non-concurrence is a check against presidential despotism.

Further, estoppel — a legal doctrine stating that one cannot deny or disprove anything that he has represented or admitted as against the person relying on it — has set in. The Supreme Court said: “The government must not be allowed to deal dishonorably and capriciously with its citizens, and must not play an ignoble part or do shabby things.” ( SM Land Inc vs. Base Conversion G.R. No. 203655, March 18, 2015).

After over seven years of the amnesty’s effectivity allowing Senator Trillanes to become a senator, the government, which includes the judiciary, cannot now undo the amnesty’s condoning effect, double-crossing Senator Trillanes and all the coup-participants who relied on the government’s assurance of their offense’s obliteration. That is a dishonorable and “shabby thing” to undertake.

A court decision validating the revocation will be the watershed to treat all future promise of amnesty to rebels, insurgents, and secessionists not as a redemptive integrating measure, but an untrustworthy strategy inspired by the meanest fraudulent intent.

One cannot help but think of ulterior motives for the revocation. First, it was designed not only to silence Senator Trillanes, but also to give the ordinary citizens something more to fear when they voice out their criticisms against the administration or any of its officials — the message being this: if government can persecute a high official, then ordinary citizen must beware.

Second, it is a spectacular red herring calculated to take away the people’s attention from the government’s failure to resolve the soaring high prices, rising inflation rate, rapid depreciation of the peso, outflow of dollars and investments, China’s intrusion in the West Philippine Sea, unremedied contractualization, bukbok rice problem, worsening spread of illegal drugs, government corruption, and others.

As a final note, Senator Trillanes’ travails compel us to look back to the significance of September 21, 1972—the day martial law was declared by the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It was a period when critics were jailed and, for some, even killed.

In these times when the government seems bent on doing everything in its power to generate anguish and fear in those who oppose it, it is not enough to merely remember what martial law did, not only to victims of torture, disappearances, and extra-judicial killings, but to all of us; the more we became desensitized to what was happening, the more government became abusive, the less we were treated as human beings.

We cannot again be complacent as to allow history to repeat itself. Never forget, never again. In being indifferent to the violation of the human/constitutional rights of others, we endanger our own and ultimately the democratic space we live in. And that is why it is morally necessary to support Senator Antonio Trillanes IV during these troubling times. His fight against government excesses and indecency must also be ours.