President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday insisted that a President cannot delegate the power to grant amnesty to a Cabinet official and that the amnesty granted to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV in 2011 was invalid because it was signed by then-Defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin.
“An act of pardon or amnesty is an act of the State which cannot be done by a mere Cabinet member,” said Duterte in a tête-à-tête with Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo.
At the time, President Benigno Aquino III designated Gazmin to form a committee to determine if Trillanes and others who had taken part in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny should be granted an amnesty.
“And that committee came up with the resolution to grant amnesty... The problem is after recommending, Gazmin signed the amnesty itself,” Duterte said.
Panelo said based on existing jurisprudence, in particular, the decision of former Supreme Court Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban in the case of Constantino vs Cuisia, there are certain powers vested in the President that cannot be delegated to an alter-ego.
“There are certain presidential powers which arise out of exceptional circumstances, and if exercised, would involve the suspension of fundamental freedoms, or at least call for the supersedence of executive prerogatives over those exercised by co-equal branches of government,” Panelo said, quoting Panganiban’s decision.
Duterte said the criminal complaint of rebellion against Trillanes was “very serious.”
“So… an act of amnesty is always an act of state that cannot be done by a mere Cabinet member. Especially, if that Cabinet member was one of those who investigated and approved the recommendation,” Duterte said.
While Aquino was within his rights to authorize Gazmin to investigate the case, it was wrong to let him sign the amnesty, he said.
“To authorize him to investigate, I will concede to that. But the act of granting amnesty with Gazmin and Congress concurring, it’s just baffling. I don’t know how to reconcile it,” Duterte said.
Trillanes taunted Duterte, saying the President seemed obsessed with him, mentioning his name more than 100 times in his tete-a-tete.
To counter the President’s assertion, he showed reporters a two-page copy of his amnesty bearing President Aquino’s signature.
Trillanes also hit Duterte for casting aspersions on his mother for alleged deals with the Navy.
“I can’t understand why he would drag my parents in this fight. Stick with me, Mr. Duterte,” he said.
He denied any impropriety in his mother’s dealings.
“They raised me properly. Maybe if they were corrupt, I would be too, but I’m not,” he said in Filipino.
Trillanes also criticized the President for comparing what he had done for the military as the Chief Executive, as against what he as a senator had done.
The Palace earlier hit back at former presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda for defending Gazmin’s involvement as a “lawful act” of a government official.
In a press briefing, Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque cited the 1939 case of Villena v. Secretary of the Interior, where the court ruled that there are certain constitutional powers and prerogatives that must only be exercised by the Chief Executive of the nation in person.
“No amount of approval or ratification will validate the exercise of any of those powers by any other person,” said Roque.
“The power to grant amnesty, like the power to grant pardon, must be exercised by the President in person,” he said.
On Saturday, Lacierda said Gazmin’s role was purely administrative, and that there was nothing irregular in his signature on Trillanes’ amnesty.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court denied Trillanes’ plea for a temporary restraining order to prevent his arrest, saying it was unnecessary.
The Court took judicial notice of President Duterte’s categorical pronouncement that the senator would not be arrested, unless a warrant of arrest has been issued by a trial court.
Nonetheless, the Court ordered respondents from the executive department to file their comment on Trillanes’ petition within 10 days.
Newly designated SC spokesman Gleoresty Guerra said the Court did not see the urgency to act on Trillanes’ petition as it considered the President’s “categorical pronouncement… that Senator Trillanes will not be apprehended, detained or taken into custody unless a warrant of arrest has been issued by the trial court.”
The order for respondents to comment on Trillanes’ plea means the Court will still rule on the merits of the case.
The Supreme Court ruling also means two Makati courts hearing the coup cases against Trillanes may proceed.
Makati regional trial court Branch 148 is set to resolve the motion of Justice Department prosecutors seeking the issuance of an arrest warrant against Trillanes for the continuation of promulgation of the case against him and also issuance of a hold departure order against him. The trial court earlier deferred acting on the motion until the Supreme Court had decided on the plea for a TRO.
Branch 150, on the other hand, has already denied the DoJ’s motions for the issuance of an arrest warrant and an HDO, but still set a hearing to decide whether or not to reopen the rebellion case.
Duterte’s Proclamation 572 nullified Amnesty Proclamation No. 75 issued by Aquino to absolve Trillanes of criminal liability in staging failed coup d’états against former President and now House Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Duterte’s proclamation declared “void ab initio” (from the start) the grant of amnesty to Trillanes for his supposed failure to file the official amnesty application form and expressly admit his guilt for the crimes he committed.
Trillanes said the Supreme Court decision enabled Duterte to save face but noted that the justices did not deny his petition outright, and instead asked government lawyers to comment on it.
In a media briefing, Trillanes described the “carefully worded” SC decision as “an initial victory.”
“We are grateful that they showed some semblance of independence. They could have outrightly dismissed the petition altogether. But they knew that we presented a strong case and the proclamation is badly flawed,” Trillanes said.
Trillanes said if he were arrested the moment he left the Senate premises, this would be “open defiance of the Supreme Court decision” and that those who tried to take him in could be charged with the illegal arrest.
Trillanes also accused Solicitor General Jose Calida of resorting to fraud and gross misrepresentation of facts and evidence.
“There’s really falsification of documents here,” said Trillanes.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, on the other hand, lauded the decision of the Supreme Court to deny Trillanes’ plea.
Guevarra said that the Court en banc’s decision showed that the Court recognizes that the issue of the validity of President Duterte’s order revoking the amnesty of Trillanes involves factual questions that only the trial courts may properly resolve.
“In the process, the Supreme Court has also acknowledged the trial court’s continuing jurisdiction over the coup d’état and rebellion cases,” he said.