Panelo: Criminal raps vs. ex-defense chief up to SolGen

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 10) — Filing criminal raps against the former defense chief is up to Solicitor General Jose Calida, Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said Monday.

Over the weekend, President Rodrigo Duterte alleged former Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin committed usurpation of authority when he approved the amnesty of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV. Panelo told CNN Philippines' The Source only the President can make that call.

When asked whether charges should be filed against Gazmin, Panelo said, "I think so. But it's the SolGen's call."

However, former President Benigno Aquino III granted amnesty to Trillanes and other mutineers in Proclamation No. 75 in 2010. The proclamation tasked the Department of National Defense to receive and process applications, then determine who was eligible for amnesty. In a 2011 letter to Aquino, Gazmin identified 38 military officers and 53 enlisted personnel — including Trillanes — as qualified.

Panelo argued that the way the letter was phrased implied Gazmin was "the one who granted the amnesty, not the President."

"Amnesty, as well as pardon, is exclusive to the President... you cannot delegate that to anyone," he said.

However, Trillanes on Monday responded that Aquino did in fact grant him amnesty, and Gazmin's authority to sign his amnesty came from the President. He added that this was even recognized by other institutions.

"Si President Aquino ang nagbigay ng amnesty through the proclamation... In any public document na kinukuha mo, yung designated na pipirma-whether administering officer iyan-basta dinelegate sa kanya ang authority na iyon, sa kanya iyon," said Trillanes.

"Nagkaroon ng effect kasi dinismiss na yung mga kaso ko," he added. "Rinecognize ng courts iyan. Nirecognize ng lahat."

[Translation: President Aquino gave the amnesty through the proclamation... In any public document you'll get, if the designated signatory or administering officer (signs)-as long as it's delegated to him-it's his (authority)... It had an effect because cases against me were dismissed. The courts recognized it. Everyone recognized it.]

Panelo also denied that there was a conflict of interest between Calida and Trillanes. The Solicitor General, who was revealed to have opened the investigation into Trillanes' amnesty, had gone head to head with the senator before. Trillanes was involved in a probe into alleged irregularities from Calida's family security firm, which booked millions worth of deals with government agencies.

On Monday, Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana disclosed that Calida had asked for the documents relating to Trillanes and other applicants' amnesty.

"He asked me personally by phone to get the amnesty records sa Department of Defense and [Armed Forces of the Philippines]. Ang ginawa ni SolGen Calida meron siyang tao na pinapunta dito to research," said Lorenzana.

"Hindi ko alam anong purpose ni SolGen Calida," he added.

Lorenzana did not say if the documents were provided. As the administration is waiting for a Supreme Court verdict before it would move to arrest Trillanes, the Defense Secretary added that a decision from the high court could also affect other applicants — including those serving in the government. Among those also involved in military coup attempts are Office of Civil Defense Deputy Administrator Chief Nicanor Faeldon, Senator Gringo Honasan, and Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano.

Alleged usurpation is an added argument that executive officials are raising against Trillanes, who is a vocal administration critic. They previously said that Trillanes did not apply for amnesty at all, and that he did not admit to guilt to his crime.

Trillanes later showed media coverage and screen caps of his application as proof of otherwise. He dismissed the alleged usurpation as "palusot" — an excuse to attack on him from another front.

"Their first assertion was, hindi ako nagfile personally. Doon nila tinaya ang kanilang basis of proclamation. Noong nablanko dahil may video, may dokumento, umaatras na," said Trillanes. "Swallow your pride, admit your mistake, step back, stand down, live to fight another day."

[Translation: Their first assertion was, I did not file (the application) personally. That's where they bet the whole basis of the proclamation. Now that's been disproven because of videos and documents, and they're going back on it.]

However, Panelo maintained Trillanes must still produce his application documents — which Trillanes' camp reasons are actually being kept by the government.

Trillanes, a former naval officer, was among those involved in the Oakwood mutiny in July 2003, the Marines stand-off in February 2006, and the Manila Peninsula incident in 2007. The uprisings were made in protest of corruption under former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's term.

Panelo also claimed that Trillanes was not a good citizen even after he received the amnesty.

"Subsequent acts show that he has been planting seeds of hate against the President... He's even inciting people to rebel against this government and the President," Panelo said. "The state has the inherent duty and right to protect itself from any attacks inimical to its interest coming from any other source."

The senator has been critical of Duterte and his policies, including the bloody war on drugs. Trillanes believes the attempt to revoke his amnesty is political persecution and a way of stifling opposition. Two other embattled Duterte critics are 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 controversial Supreme Court ouster.