Time’s running out

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Desperate times call for desperate measures — this is evident with the dilatory tactics employed by the legal team of Sen. Antonio Trillanes. It was uncharacteristic of the lead of his legal team, former Solicitor General, now Twitter lawyer, Florence Hilbay, to use methods meant to misinform and confuse the public. His litigation bulldog, Atty. Rey Robles, has been granting interviews left and right like a political lacky, making statements that are off-mark.

Trillanes has to be ready to face the music. His bags at the Senate better be packed as he may be placed in chains sooner than we know it. We pray that he has matured enough not to cause another spectacle akin to what happened at the Manila Peninsula years ago.

Last week’s legal tussles may have led to the deferment of the issuance of the arrest warrant against Trillanes, but the truth is that the judiciary merely played a more prudent role by asking for more submissions so it can come up with a more holistic resolution, not giving in to pressure from the government, particularly the Department of Justice (DoJ).

On Tuesday, 11 September, the Supreme Court (SC) en banc denied Trillanes’ Petition for Issuance of a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) to cease the implementation of President Duterte’s Proclamation 572. The denial was made pursuant to the President’s public declaration that Trillanes will not be detained without the issuance of an arrest warrant; in fact, the resolution made mention of said presidential directive. Had the SC issued the TRO, then there would be no reason for the issuance of an arrest warrant since the constitutionality of the revocation must be determined before other legal issues.

​The SC instead acknowledged the issues at hand (i.e., whether an application for amnesty was filed and whether an admission of guilt was actually made) to be factual in nature, referred the matter to the Regional Trial Court (RTC), the main trier of facts in legal cases. To simplify, while the constitutional issue on the propriety of Proclamation 572 remains with the SC, which could take its time on ruling on this, the necessity of the issuance of a warrant shall now be decided upon by the RTC.

Thus, the fate of Trillanes rests on two RTC in Makati City that previously handled his coup d’etat and rebellion cases. Both of these RTC dismissed the charges against Trillanes, et al., pursuant to the amnesty grant made by former President Noynoy Aquino.

​The 1st RTC case: Branch 148 of RTC-Makati, where the coup d’etat case was lodged, is now presided by Judge Andres Soriano. The previous judge that actually handled the case, Judge Oscar Pimentel, already retired.

​On Thursday, 13 September, the court had already received the following pleadings: Motion for Issuance of an Alias Warrant, Comment and Reply. The court, therefore directed counsel of Trillanes to file his rejoinder within a period of 10 days, or until 23 September. For this court, Trillanes buys time for another two weeks or so.

​The 2nd RTC case: Branch 150 of RTC-Makati, on the other hand, is where the rebellion charge is pending. Unlike Branch 148, the very same judge is still presiding Branch 150 — Judge Elmo Alameda. We can expect swifter response in this court and the last hearing proved this to be correct.

​On Friday, 14 September, a hearing was held at Branch 150 and, at that time, the court had already received DoJ’s motion and Trillanes’ comment. The court, thus, directed the DoJ to file its reply within five days, or until 19 September, and for Trillanes to file his rejoinder within five days from receipt of the reply. But instead of stopping there, the court made a few factual observations and allowed the parties to argue on the matter.

As a preview of the forthcoming decision of the court, Judge Alameda asked what can be the deciding document that could determine whether the arrest warrant would be issued or not — an original copy of the application for amnesty. Unfortunately, counsel for Trillanes, Atty. Robles, could not produce the same, instead offered secondary evidence, particularly testimony from a witness who has personal knowledge of said document and a video of Trillanes submitting said application.

It is established in SC jurisprudence that before a party is allowed to adduce secondary evidence to prove the contents of the original, the offeror must prove the following: (1) the existence or due execution of the original; (2) the loss and destruction of the original or the reason for its non-production in court and (3) on the part of the offeror, the absence of bad faith to which the unavailability of the original can be attributed. The correct order of proof is as follows: existence, execution, loss and contents. As such, Robles has a long way to go before evidence other than the original document, requested by Judge Alameda, may be admitted.

This being so, we can expect a heated argument between Robles and DoJ’s lawyers in the next hearing. This should not hinder the reissuance of an arrest warrant. We must remember that what is exactly being requested is an “alias warrant” since probable cause has already been determined years ago and warrants were issued before that. The court now only has to decide on whether a warrant must be issued yet again, in view of the change in factual circumstances and the burden of proof now is on the side of Trillanes.

Absent the original copy of the amnesty application, Trillanes should know what will happen next. He may be extending his welcome already at the Senate and his prolonged stay may cause some political disruptions. The public will eventually get tired of his media interviews and their budget for hiring and rehearsing rallyists will dwindle. If there is any hint of being a “stateman” in him, then he should start his walk to his prison cell.

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