EXPLAINER: What Judge Soriano means in saying Duterte's Proclamation No. 572 is 'legal'

MANILA, Philippines – Amid the celebratory tweets on Monday, October 22, hailing the “courageous” decision of Makati Judge Andres Soriano to keep opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV free, there was one that wasn’t quick to jump for joy.

“ST (Sonny Trillanes) lives to fight another day. But if the proclamation is valid…hmmm,” tweeted Liberal Party lawmaker Teddy Baguilat Jr, current Ifugao Representative.

A netizen replied to Baguilat: “I palpitated at the last part of your tweet.”

Soriano of Makati Regional Trial Court (RTC) Branch 148 on Monday rejected the government request to arrest and jail Trillanes, contradicting President Rodrigo Duterte on his factual basis to void the amnesty granted almost 8 years ago to the senator.

But there was a nuance to that decision: Soriano also upheld the legality of the issuance of Duterte’s Proclamation No. 572 that attempted to void the amnesty.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo fixated on that, saying “existing legal remedies under the law may be availed of” to keep pursuing the arrest of Trillanes, the most vocal enemy of the President.

But for former Supreme Court (SC) Spokesperson Ted Te, also a law professor at the University of the Philippines, Ateneo Law School, and De La Salle University College of Law, the government cannot use that part of the ruling in future cases simply because of a trial court's decision.

“The RTC ruling is not authoritative in that it does not bind all other cases, not having precedential value. Only SC decisions have precedential value, ie, they become precedent or doctrine,” Te said.

What Soriano said

Trillanes petitioned Branch 148 to declare Proclamation No. 572 unconstitutional, citing as basis its encroachment on the power of the judicial and legislative branches. 

One, it was argued that Duterte cannot unilaterally void an amnesty that was concurred in by Congress when it was granted. Two, void ab initio or declaring something void has long been assumed to be a judicial power, and not something that presidents can assume as theirs.

Soriano’s appreciation of it is that the proclamation was “purely an executive act and prerogative in the exercise of the President’s power of control and supervision over all offices and agencies of the executive department.”

Soriano explained that Duterte’s proclamation did not nullify Proclamation No. 75 of former president Benigno Aquino III, the proclamation that granted amnesty to Trillanes and his fellow mutineers.

“Given that Proclamation No. 572 does not declare as void Proclamation No. 75, the assertion that Proclamation No. 572 violates the Constitution insofar as it effectively encroached on the judicial power to review presidential proclamations exclusively vested in the courts, is at least misplaced, if not irrelevant,” said Soriano in his decision. (READ: DOCUMENT: Makati Judge Andres Soriano's decision keeping Trillanes free)

Just prudence

Did Soriano uphold Duterte’s power to unilaterally revoke amnesty in a manner he did with Trillanes? Te said he did not because Soriano’s ruling “is of limited value” and one that “cannot be cited as precedent in future decisions.”

A crucial line in Soriano's decision is this: “Proclamation No. 572 does not pretend to review the validity of Proclamation No. 75; only its implementation as to Trillanes." 

In effect, Soriano upheld Duterte’s executive power to issue such a proclamation on the Trillanes case, but he also said the proclamation's factual basis for voiding the amnesty was wrong.

That’s why it was such a gutsy move,” said Te.

Constitutional Law professor Tony La Viña said that part of Soriano’s ruling was just prudence.

“There is nothing earthshaking about Judge Soriano’s finding on constitutionality of Duterte’s proclamation. The rule always is to find an interpretation that avoids a declaration of unconstitutionality. That’s what the Judge did,” said La Viña.

But as in all questions in law, the final say lies with Padre Faura.

The Supreme Court is currently discussing Trillanes’ petition which raises the same question on constitutionality. The Court initially denied Trillanes a Temporary Restraining Order, as the justices wanted the trial courts to resolve factual issues first.

Of course, Te said, Soriano’s ruling is not binding on the High Court. What the Supreme Court decides is the one that binds all.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, the one tasked by the President to find a legal way to jail Trillanes, is confident in saying: “This is just the beginning, this is not the end, nobody has to claim total victory here, umpisa pa lang ito (this is only the beginning).”

This comes against the backdrop of the choice of a chief justice, where Duterte has to choose among incumbent justices who have applied for the top position. Among them is Associate Justice Diosdado Peralta, who is member-in-charge of the Trillanes case.

Judge Soriano said: "The law is vibrant. Jurisprudence is its lifeblood. Subsequent jurisprudence may forge new horizons.”

Where will the Supreme Court take us? – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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