DOJ leaves it up to OSG to appeal Trillanes’ case

It will be up to the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) to determine whether to appeal a ruling by the Court of Appeals (CA) that favored former senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

The CA set aside the order issued by the Makati Regional Trial (RTC) Court Branch 150 reviving the rebellion case against the coup plotter turned lawmaker due to technicalities.

Department of Justice (DOJ) Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Solicitor General, as counsel for the government, will determine the next legal remedy.

“It may include a motion for reconsideration with the Court of Appeals or a petition for review with the Supreme Court,” Guevarra said.

“The DOJ’s failure to follow procedural rules in assailing the validity of the order merits the denial of its omnibus motion,” the CA ruled.

The CA’s Sixth Division granted Trillanes’ petition for certiorari, challenging the Makati court’s orders dated Sept. 25, 2018 that granted the government’s plea for an arrest warrant and reviving the rebellion case against Trillanes for his role in the 2007 Manila Peninsula siege.

In a 59-page decision by Associate Justice Apolinario Bruselas Jr., Trillanes’ petition was granted to quash the order issued by Makati RTC Branch 150 presiding judge Elmo Alameda.

Alameda upheld the legality of President Duterte’s Proclamation No. 572 which revoked the grant of amnesty to Trillanes by former President Benigno Aquino III. He also granted the DOJ’s motion for the reopening of the rebellion case, issuance of an arrest warrant, and a hold departure order against the senator.

The trial court then junked Trillanes’ motion for reconsideration on Dec. 18, 2018.

In both orders, the trial court said Trillanes failed to comply with the minimum requirements to be entitled to amnesty under Proclamation No. 75, issued by Mr. Aquino. It held that the senator failed to prove that he actually applied to be granted amnesty and that he expressly admitted his guilt to the crimes committed pertaining to the Manila Peninsula takeover.

Since the amnesty granted to the petitioner was revoked through Proclamation 572 due to non-compliance with the requirements, the Makati RTC court held that its dismissal of the rebellion case on September 7, 2011, was a void order.

But while the CA affirmed the constitutionality of Proclamation 572, it pointed out that the DOJ failed to comply with the procedural rules in assailing the validity of the Makati RTC’s dismissal order.

“In the criminal case subject of herein petition, the prosecution did not file an action for the annulment of or for relief from the Order of September 7, 2011, nor did it move for the issuance of a writ of certiorari to invalidate the said order. The alleged void order, which dismissed the rebellion charge was attacked only through the Omnibus Motion filed in the same case, which prayed for the issuance of a warrant of arrest and hold departure order against the petitioner,” the CA explained.

“The attack, therefore, was merely a collateral one. Tested against the outlined procedural standards above, the remedy resorted to by the DOJ cannot be anything else but irregular and improper. The respondent court gravely abused its discretion when it took cognizance of DOJ’s Omnibus Motion, set aside its order of September 7, 2011, and revived the criminal action against the petitioner,” the decision read further.

The CA pointed out that unlike Makati RTC Branch 148 which conducted a full evidentiary hearing on the motion by the DOJ to reopen the coup d’ etat case against Trillanes by virtue of Proclamation 572, Alameda merely conducted a summary hearing through affidavits and documents.

“The court inquiry cannot be merely summary and cursory, but one that shall give the parties ample opportunity to be heard on their respective evidence,” the CA added.

Alameda ruled that Trillanes failed to present the original hard copy, a duplicate copy, or even a photocopy to substantiate his claim that he personally accomplished and filed his official amnesty application form.

The trial court said with Trillanes’ amnesty being declared void ab initio (invalid from the outset), it has regained jurisdiction to hear and resolve the case despite its dismissal in 2011.

The CA, however, ruled that the Makati RTC has lost its jurisdiction over the case as it acted with grave abuse of discretion when it failed to hear testimonial evidence or conduct an in-depth inquiry on the DOJ’s motion.

“The court inquiry cannot be merely summary and cursory, but one that shall give the parties ample opportunity to be heard on their respective evidence,” the CA noted.

“The respondent court committed grave abuse of discretion when, without taking ample time to pause and ponder, whether or not it retained jurisdiction, summarily and cursorily considered the Omnibus Motion upon a matter involving a criminal action that it has long-ago dismissed,” it added.

Trillanes, then a Navy officer, and other members of the so-called Magdalo group were also charged with coup d’etat before the Makati RTC for the 2003 Oakwood Hotel mutiny.

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