The Court of Appeals has exonerated two officials of the Armed Forces of the Philippines of coup d’état charges in connection with their participation in the June 27, 2003 Oakwood mutiny.
The court said their action “was a valid and legitimate exercise of their constitutional right to freedom of speech and expression.”
In a 21-page decision, the CA’s Ninth Division through Associate Justice Victoria Isabel Paredes reversed the judgment rendered by the Makati City Regional Trial Court, Branch 48, which found 1Lt Lawrence San Juan and 1Lt Rex Bolo guilty of the crime of committing coup d’état and sentenced them to six years up to 12 years of imprisonment.
San Juan and Bolo were not among the military officers belonging to the Magdalo group who applied and granted amnesty during the term of the President Arroyo and later the Aquino administration.
In absolving the two military officers, the appellate court gave credence to their arguments that the prosecution failed to prove the presence of all the elements of coup d’ etat and that their constitutional right to equal protection was violated when Senator Gregorio Honasan II was exonerated by the DOJ and they were not.
Honasan allegedly instigated the young military officers to launch the mutiny.
San Juan also asserted that the denial by the trial court of his plea bargain of pleading guilty to the crime of conspiracy to commit coup d’ etat, which was denied by the RTC does not automatically prove that the crime of coup d’ etat was committed.
The CA ruled that the third and fourth elements of the crime of coup d’état are not present in the case.
The third element requires that the attack be “directed against duly constituted authorities of the Republic of the Philippines or any military camp or installation, communication networks, public utilities or other facilities needed for the exercise and continued possession of power.”
It noted that the Oakwood Premier Hotel (now Ascott Makati) is a first class hotel , in the commercial district of Makati City.
“It is not a military camp or installation, not a form of communication network, not a public utility or a facility needed for the exercise and continued possession of power,” the appellate court stressed.
The CA also said the fourth element which requires “that the purpose of the attack is to seize or diminish state power” is also absent.
“Moreover, the trial court itself found that the accused only called for the resignation of then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and other key officials of the government. The trial court failed to point out in the assailed decision any showing that the appellant indeed planned to arrogate state power upon themselves or diminish state power,” the appellate court ruled.
According to the CA, the actions of the two soldiers can be considered as a valid exercise of their right to freedom of speech and expression.
“Freedom of speech and of the press means something more than the right to approve existing political belief or economic arrangements, to lend support to official measures and to take refuge in the existing climate of opinion on any matter of public consequence,” the appellate court stressed.
The CA ordered the lower court to release the bail bonds posted by the two military officers for their provisional liberty.
On June 27, 2003, over 300 junior officers and enlisted men of the AFP led by then Lt Sg. Antonio Trillanes IV and now Senator Antonio Trillanes IV went to Oakwood Premier Hotel in Makati City to air their grievances against the Arroyo government.
The mutineers eventually surrendered and were charged with the crime of coup d’ etat penalized under Article 135 of the Revised Penal Code.
After conducting a preliminary investigation on the case, the Department of Justice (D)O) issued a resolution on October 30, 2003 finding probable cause to indict 31 out of the 300 original accused for the crime including San Juan and Bolo.
Some of the Magdalo soldiers were granted conditional pardon by Mrs. Arroyo under General Order No. 10 dated May 12, 2008, while others benefitted from Proclamation No. 75 issued by President Aquino granting amnesty to active and former personnel of the AFP and Philippine National Police who participated in the Oakwood mutiny, the Marines stand-off at Fort Bonifacio in 2006 and the Manila Peninsula incident.