ConCom member: Duterte cannot void Trillanes' amnesty without courts

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 5) — Amnesty can theoretically be voided -- but the President cannot call the shots on his own, a constitutional expert said on Wednesday.

San Beda College Graduate School of Law Dean Fr. Ranhilio Aquino weighed in on President Rodrigo Duterte's proclamation to void amnesty given to opposition senator Antonio Trillanes IV. Executive officials argue that this effectively makes the soldier-turned-lawmaker a wanted man for his role in military uprisings against former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration.

READ: Trillanes faces arrest as Duterte voids his amnesty

"My position is that is not for the President to say... Only the courts can properly say that," Aquino told CNN Philippines' The Source.

"The President, when an amnesty is granted, cannot unilaterally withdraw or revoke the amnesty," he added.

Aquino is a member of the Constitutional Committee (Con-Com), appointed by Duterte to aid in the shift to federalism.

Trillanes' case has sparked debate on whether amnesty can be revoked, and how. It may also have far-reaching implications for people who previously received amnesty and those who will apply for it in the future.

When asked why the courts had to be consulted, Aquino responded that power could not be concentrated.

"Normally you would say the President granted it, therefore it is for the President to determine whether or not the grant is valid or invalid," he explained. "But if you would do that, you would be concentrating too much government power in official, contrary to the tenets of democracy."

The legal academic went on to cite American jurisprudence on the issue, noting that there were no such precedents in Philippine law.

"American jurisprudence tells us once amnesty is granted, even if fraudulently obtained, [it] cannot be taken away without appropriate processes," said Aquino. "[These] are certainly judicial processes."

 

Trillanes and his allies cried political persecution, as the senator has been a vocal critic of Duterte.

Amid debate as to whether the proclamation can substitute for a warrant of arrest, Senate President Tito Sotto said that no colleague could be arrested within Senate premises. Trillanes spent Tuesday night at his office.

READ: Trillanes, officials decry 'political persecution' in voiding of amnesty

The Justice Department has turned to a Makati Regional Trial Court to get an alias arrest warrant for Trillanes, but Aquino does not think that is the proper procedure.

"An alias warrant can be issued only if the service of the first warrant failed and... the case is still current," he said. "But if the case has already been dismissed, the alias warrant cannot work. They have to file the case again."

Aquino said that Trillanes could argue he is not covered by any warrant of arrest due to his amnesty, and only then should the government try to prove otherwise.

"Sen. Trillanes can say I am not covered by that, and you cannot arrest me because of amnesty. The government will then try to refute that by proving the amnesty was void," said Aquino. "But the final determination of whether in fact the grant was valid or void is not the executive's call, but the [judiciary's] call."

The proclamation against Trillanes is regarded by critics as the latest of the Duterte administration efforts to shut down opposition. Other vocal figures who questioned Duterte include Senator Leila De Lima, who is detained on what she maintains are trumped up drug charges; and former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, who was unseated by her own colleagues in a highly controversial decision.