IBP: Judiciary must protect independence amid Trillanes case

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 6) — President Rodrigo Duterte's move to void opposition senator Antonio Trillanes' amnesty might be an intrusion into judicial power, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) President Abdiel Fajardo said on Thursday.

As such, the national organization of Filipino lawyers hopes for "judicial wisdom" to guard against that.

"[The] government seems to be trailblazing jurisprudence, trying to test certain limits of the law in order to advance certain policies," Fajardo told CNN Philippines' The Source.

"I think it would be helpful not only to the camp of Sen. Trillanes, but also to the government, if the Supreme Court finally decides on this or tries to discuss parameters, intent of the lawmakers or the constitution drafters, so that we can finally say whether or not the President needs to consult Congress or whether or not there is such power to revoke an amnesty already granted."

Duterte on Tuesday released a proclamation voiding the amnesty granted to Trillanes for his involvement in military coups under former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's administration. While executive officials said Trillanes faced arrest, the senator's camp has pointed out the proclamation is not equivalent to an arrest warrant — which the government has not yet procured.

The controversial proclamation has ignited debate on the provisions of amnesty. Two pertinent questions have been whether amnesty can even be revoked in the first place; and whether a President can revoke amnesty unilaterally, without Congress or a court.

As the government waits for an alias warrant at the Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC), Trillanes' camp took his case to the Supreme Court.

However, some administration critics worry about the composition of the high court. Newly appointed Chief Justice Teresita De Castro and a majority of associate justices have ruled in favor of Duterte's policies, particularly in issues such as martial law in Mindanao, the burial of late strongman Ferdinand Marcos in Libingan ng mga Bayani, and the ouster of former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

But Fajardo is withholding judgment.

"I would not want to speculate on the leanings of the justices of the Supreme Court," said Fajardo. "What I can say is that I am hopeful judicial independence can be asserted and protected in this case."

This is not the first time the Duterte administration has tested jurisprudence. Previous cases include the ouster of Sereno by her own colleagues through a quo warranto petition, and the withdrawal from the International Criminal Court after the Duterte administration claimed the Rome Statute was never published — even after it was ratified.

IBP questions Makati RTC jurisdiction

The Makati RTC under Judge Andres Soriano scheduled a hearing on the Justice Department's request for an alias warrant for Trillanes on September 13. However, the IBP thinks the case might be out of the RTC's hands.

"The first question there is, does the RTC still have jurisdiction to entertain anything from anybody?" said Fajardo.

He recalled that it was also a Makati RTC that dismissed the case against Trillanes.

"You cannot reverse the final ruling of a co-equal judge. Only a higher court can reverse, review, modify the orders of a trial court judge," he added.

Fajardo also doubted whether a warrant could be issued at all, as there was no pending case at the court.

"When the case was dismissed, there's no pending criminal information anymore... Therefore the [RTC] could not act on anything — not even an alias warrant, because the status of the case was it was dismissed," he said.

Administration officials maintain that the proclamation was enough to restore those cases. However, constitutional expert Fr. Ranhilio Aquino also said it would be more prudent if the government would just "file the case again."

The Justice Department could also take its request to the Court of Appeals and Supreme Court, Fajardo said.

The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) also said Trillanes was back to military personnel status. In line with this, the Department of National Defense (DND) expressed belief that Trillanes could be tried before a court martial.

However, Trillanes maintained that he resigned from the military. The IBP President also said that Trillanes was no longer under the jurisdiction of the military tribunal.

"When Sen. Trillanes filed the certificate of candidacy for senator, legally he lost already his standing as an employee of the [AFP]," said Fajardo.

The proclamation against Trillanes is regarded by critics as the latest of the administration efforts to clamp down on 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.

Watch the complete interview with Fajardo here.