Congressional leaders lukewarm to probing Trillanes amnesty revocation

MANILA, Philippines – Congressional leaders are not moving on resolutions seeking to condemn and probe into the attempt to revoke Senator Antonio Trillanes IV's amnesty.

Opposition lawmakers in the House of Representatives filed House Resolution (HR) No. 2155, while their counterparts in the Senate filed Senate Resolution (SR) No. 886

HR 2155 denounces the “unlawful” revocation of Trillanes' amnesty, while SR 886 wants to look into the “fraudulent and erroneous” basis of Duterte’s order.

Days later, there has been little movement on both resolutions. 

Several legislators believe both the House and the Senate must give their stamp of approval before any changes can be made in an amnesty grant that Congress had concurred in, in the past. 

1-Ang Edukasyon Representative Salvador Belaro said this in the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Proclamation No. 572 that seeks to void the amnesty granted to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.  

May naging papel kasi ang Kongreso noon bago nabigyan ng amnesty si Senador Trillanes. Kaya kung may nagbago sa mga kondisyon o parameters at mga detalye ng amnesty, sana’y konsultahin din ng Palasyo ang Kongreso at kunin ang basbas ng Kongreso bago magpatupad ng anumang mga pagbabago sa amnesty grant,” said Belaro on Thursday, September 13.  

(Congress played a role when amnesty was granted before to Senator Trillanes. That’s why if there are going to be changes in the condition, parameters, or details pertaining to the amnesty, the Palace should consult and get the consent of Congress before implementing any changes in an amnesty grant). 

This is also the sentiment of Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, who had joined Trillanes in staging the 2003 Oakwood mutiny and the 2007 Manila Peninsula siege under ex-president and now Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. They were later granted amnesty in 2011 under former president Benigno Aquino III.

Alejano himself joined other opposition lawmakers in filing HR 2155, which expresses the “collective sentiment” of the lower chamber “denouncing the baseless, unlawful, and improvident” order of Duterte against Trillanes.

The legislators said Section 19, Article VII of the 1987 Constitution mandates that there should be concurrence by the majority of all members of the House and Senate when a president grants amnesty to an individual.  

The Constitution is silent on the revocation of amnesty, but the legislators believe "revocation, if allowable, must also have the concurrence of the Congress."

The resolution remains pending at the committee on rules. Alejano hopes Arroyo and the rest of the House leadership would back HR 2155.

“Well, we will just hope for the best…hoping that the institution of the House of Congress would  assert its independence,” said Alejano.

Constitutional duty

According to Akbayan Representative Tom Villarin, HR 2155 also invokes a constitutional mandate that House leaders cannot ignore.

“The House leadership has no other way to interpret it, otherwise it would again be abdicating its constitutional duty akin to its deference to quo warranto over impeachment being the sole process of removing a special class of public officials,” he said. 

Villarin was referring to the decision of the House earlier this year to just render “moot and academic” the pending articles of impeachment against ex-Supreme Court chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno when her colleagues decided to grant the quo warranto petition that nullified her appointment in May.

At the Senate, opposition senators also filed SR 886, directing the appropriate Senate committee to look into the “fraudulent and erroneous” basis of Duterte’s order.

As of posting, SR 886 had yet to be read on the floor and referred to the proper panel.  

Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon previously said in a television interview that “bottomline” in the Trillanes amnesty controversy is the need to respect the decisions of institutions in the country “[for] the stability of our democracy.”

“An amnesty was granted by the executive and the amnesty was concurred in by Congress. The judiciary approved the grant of the amnesty. The 3 branches of government were on the same track. Don’t tell me that we can just void that,” Drilon told ANC’s Headstart on September 6.  

“All acted in unison insofar as this case is concerned. If the proclamation is sustained, that will authorize the review of every application done down to every detail,” he added. 

‘This is the way amnesties are done’ 

For ex-Ateneo School of Government dean Tony La Viña, what Congress should oppose is Duterte’s unilateral decision not to recognize the approval of an amnesty application under a procedure approved by both the House and Senate.

The premise of Proclamation 572 was the allegation that Trillanes did not file for amnesty in the first place, a claim the embattled senator and documents from the Department of National Defense have disproven.

Days after his issuance against Trillanes, Duterte introduced a new theory on how Trillanes’ amnesty can be revoked. He claimed that because former defense secretary Voltaire Gazmin – and not former president Aquino III – signed Trillanes' certification of amnesty, the amnesty is not valid. (READ: FALSE: Duterte says Gazmin 'didn't have authority to give Trillanes amnesty’)

But while the power to grant amnesty lies with the President, the process that it entails is delegated to committees. 

A look at past amnesty proclamations shows that at least 6 Philippine presidents delegated – through a signed proclamation – the final approval of individual amnesty applications to a panel or a committee.

So the President cannot just say na mali itong procedure na ito. Inapprove na ‘yan ng Congress, 'di ba?” said La Viña. (So the President cannot just say this procedure is wrong. Congress approved it, right?)

La Viña suggested that Congress “just reiterate its sense that the amnesty is valid.”

“My suggestion is for Congress to come out with a clear resolution stating that this is the way amnesties are done and has always been done. This is how we concur with amnesties,” said La Viña. 

Assert independence

He said this course of action would give Congress leaders a chance to assert their independence as a co-equal branch without necessarily condemning Duterte. 

Arroyo has so far remained non-committal over the amnesty issue involving the opposition senator who once staged a mutiny against her. 

“Well, it is a legal issue. He has gone to court so let's see what the court continues to have to say,” said the Speaker.

Senate President Vicente Sotto III has allowed Trillanes to stay in the Senate for now. He also said he will not allow a court martial arrest inside the Senate premises. But Sotto also warned the minority bloc not to abuse his hospitality.

It remains to be seen if the leaders of the 17th Congress would heed the call to take action against Trillanes’ amnesty ordeal. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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