Benigno Aquino III: ‘Amnesty valid, final, irrevocable’

Jess Diaz - The Philippine Star
Benigno Aquino III: �Amnesty valid,  final, irrevocable�
“The fact that he applied, went through the process and was granted amnesty means that it was valid. It was not void,” Aquino said in mixed English and Filipino in an interview with TV5.
Joven Cagande

MANILA, Philippines — The amnesty granted to opposition Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and other former military rebels was valid, former president Benigno Aquino III said yesterday, as Albay Rep. Edcel Lagman argued that it could not be revoked by President Duterte because it was approved by Congress.

“The fact that he applied, went through the process and was granted amnesty means that it was valid. It was not void,” Aquino said in mixed English and Filipino in an interview with TV5.

He said no one opposed the amnesty application of Trillanes and military colleagues who rebelled against the administration of his predecessor, former president and incumbent Speaker Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Lagman said Proclamation No. 75 dated Nov. 24, 2010 issued by Aquino and concurred with by Congress under Concurrent Resolution No. 4 dated Dec. 13 and 14, 2010 “does not provide for any revocation clause.”

Consequently, he said Duterte’s decision to scrap the amnesty grant to Trillanes “has no legal and factual basis.”

“Amnesty, which obliterates past offenses, is final, absolute and irrevocable, unlike a presidential conditional pardon. Alleged present transgressions of a grantee are immaterial and do not militate against the grant of amnesty,” he added.

Lagman explained that the President’s power to grant amnesty with the concurrence of Congress is contained in Article VII, Section 19 of the Constitution.

“An amnesty is granted to a class of people, while a presidential pardon is given to a specific individual and does not need the approval of Congress. An amnesty obliterates the offense, while a pardon erases the penalty,” he said.

Aquino said the amnesty grant allowed the former soldiers “to start anew.”

He added that his grant had not been questioned “for the past seven to eight years.”

The former chief executive pointed out that Duterte’s decision to withdraw the amnesty he granted to Trillanes has implications for any future amnesty program.

“They applied, complied with the process and suddenly, it is withdrawn. Perhaps, next time, they will think for how long amnesty would last? They would think twice in laying down their arms,” he said.

If Trillanes were to be arrested, the basis should be an arrest warrant, according to Aquino.

In 2007, then president Arroyo pardoned former president Joseph Estrada after the Sandiganbayan convicted him of plunder.

Lagman said he could not remember any law providing for rules and procedures on applying for amnesty.

“Generally, the applicable rules are those issued by the Department of National Defense. One has to apply and comply with certain requirements,” he said.

Diversionary tactic

The revocation of the amnesty granted to Trillanes proves that the Duterte administration would do everything to silence its critics, Vice President Leni Robredo said yesterday.

Robredo also sees Duterte’s Proclamation 572, which declared Trillanes’ amnesty as “void,” as a tactic to divert the public’s attention from the government’s failures to address the problems being faced by Filipinos.

“Politicking has no place in times when many of our countrymen are facing hunger, poverty and lack of employment opportunities,” Robredo said.

“As elected officials of the government, we have been entrusted with the power to find solutions and not to advance personal interest,” she added.

Robredo said the Duterte administration’s latest attack against its critics causes not only divisiveness but also hopelessness among Filipinos.

“We urge this administration to honor the amnesty given to Senator Trillanes and to immediately stop wasting money on senseless quarrel and instead focus its attention on the needs of the Filipino people,” she said.

‘Abuse of presidential powers’

Trillanes’ fellow Magdalo and Lagman’s opposition colleague Rep. Gary Alejano said Duterte’s amnesty revocation “is arbitrary, illegal and clearly an abuse of presidential powers.”

“Senator Trillanes was already cleared from all charges. He has duly complied with all requirements set forth by the laws for his amnesty. The proclamation issued by Duterte, therefore, has no basis at all,” Alejano said.

“The administration is panicking and trying to silence the opposition,” he added.

Alejano was not discounting the possibility that Duterte might also scrap the amnesty granted to him by the Aquino government, but that he would fight it through the legal process.

“They could do that to me and other recipients of amnesty given by previous administrations. That amnesty was given to all. We have long heard that they wanted to do this. They studied it and this is clearly a case of political persecution,” Alejano said.

He said Duterte’s revocation of the amnesty granted to Trillanes, his fiercest critic at the Senate, is a “clear act of revenge.”

“Fifteen years ago, we stood up against corruption in government. Today, we remain standing and fighting against abuse of power,” Alejano said.

The congressman filed the first impeachment complaint against Duterte in the early part of last year. The President’s allies at the House of Representatives later dismissed it for lack of merit.

‘Crazy’ decision

Another opposition congressman, Edgar Erice of Caloocan City, described Duterte’s decision as “crazy.”

Erice said he does not believe Aquino amnestied Trillanes and other rebellious soldiers if they did not apply for it.

He said he saw video footage showing the opposition senator applying for amnesty.

Erice said Duterte should dismiss the official who recommended Trillanes’ amnesty revocation.

“We will be transformed into a banana republic if two sitting senators, elected by the people, languish in jail simply because they are in the opposition,” Erice said.

For Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, Duterte’s revocation of Trillanes’ amnesty is “clearly a political vendetta.”

He said the grounds for such revocation are “too flimsy and won’t hold ground as Aquino, with the concurrence of Congress, made the amnesty full and complete.”

Like the opposition, the leftist Makabayan bloc criticized Duterte, saying the move against the Magdalo senator shows the “intensifying political persecution against opposition and critics of the Duterte administration.”

“We view this as a desperate but treacherous attack of a regime that is under siege by public criticism and broadening social dissent due to rising inflation, worsening poverty and human rights violations. President Duterte has again showed that he cannot be trusted to respect peace agreements with rebels,” the group said in a statement.

It said a Sword of Damocles now hangs over the heads of former soldiers who protested against the government and were amnestied.

Ex-gov’t execs dispute revocation

Former officials under the Aquino administration have disputed the basis of Duterte’s revocation of amnesty granted to Trillanes.

On social media, former deputy presidential spokesperson Abigail Valte also posted an image of Trillanes’ application for amnesty, disputing Malacañang’s claim that he failed to file one.

“Obviously, after. You cannot avail of amnesty if it has not been granted yet. All applications under that amnesty are made after, not before,” Valte said in response to a question on when the application was filed.

Former presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda shared Valte’s post, describing it as a “receipt” that could serve as the best evidence in law.

“You will see Sonny swearing in before a (Department of National Defense) personnel, his application form shown,” he said, referring to Trillanes.

“How is it (that the) DND has a copy then and the application is nowhere to be found now? This is what we call infidelity to the custody of documents,” he added.

Lacierda also called out Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, who also served in the previous Aquino administration in the Office of the Executive Secretary.

“Interesting that DOJ Sec. Guevara is defending the amnesty revocation which he never took part in. He says Sonny did not admit guilt,” Lacierda said.

The former Palace spokesman called on the secretary to read a news article on Trillanes’ admission of guilt, saying, “If the records are not there, it means the DND needs to explain.”

Former solicitor general Florin Hilbay said Duterte has no unilateral constitutional authority to nullify an amnesty given and accepted eight years ago.

He agreed with Lagman, who noted that Congress concurred with the granting of the amnesty.

CHR: Let Trillanes exhaust legal remedies

Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said Trillanes should be allowed to exhaust all legal remedies to challenge the revocation of his amnesty.

“As first and foremost a citizen of the Republic with rights protected by the Constitution, we hope that Senator Trillanes will be allowed to exhaust all legal means in seeking recourse in light of this order by Malacañang,” CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.

“We will let due process and the rule of law take its due course, guided by the principle of fairness and sound judgment,” she added. – With Helen Flores, Janvic Mateo

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