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But judge sustains voiding of Senator’s amnesty; Justice dep’t readies appeal 

By CLAIRE MORALES TRUE | Managing Editor

 

Photo from Manila Bulletin

 

MAKATI CITY – The Makati Regional Trial Court has upheld the validity of President Rodrigo Duterte's proclamation voiding  the grant of amnesty to Senator Antonio Trillanes IV but denied the Department of Justice petition for the revival of the coup d'etat case against him and prayer for the issuance of arrest warrant and hold-departure order against the senator.

 

The ruling of Judge Andres B Soriano of the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148 in effect gave temporary reprieve for the embattled senator for his arrest for a non-bailable offense. The decision though was different from a ruling of a related case in the Branch 150 of the court which had issued a warrant of arrest for a bailable offense.

 

While welcomed by the supporters of Trillanes, the new ruling will be appealed by the DOJ before the Court of Appeals, according to Justice Secretary Medardo Guevarra. 

 

In a 33-page order, Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 148 Judge Andres B. Soriano found "no basis to believe that Proclamation 572 has breached any constitutional guaranty or that it has encroached on the constitutional power of either the judicial and executive branch."

 

Soriano said that in voiding the grant of amnesty to Trillanes, Proclamation 572 "merely sought to correct what the executive branch perceives to be an erroneous grant of amnesty to Trillanes,who allegedly did not apply for amnesty and who failed to admit guilt and/or participation and involvement in, among others, the Oakwood Mutiny, and/or otherwise failed to recant previous statements contrary to such admissions,"

 

However, the court turned down the government's plea for an arrest warrant and a hold departure order against the lawmaker citing that the judgment clearing the lawmaker had long been final and executory.

 

Some senators hailed Judge Soriano's order as Malacañang said it "respects" the decision denying the petition of the Department of Justice (DOJ) for a warrant of arrest against Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV over the coup d’etat case filed against him.

 

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo noted that the Office of the President has yet to receive a copy of the ruling issued by the Makati court.

 

He also welcomed the court’s affirmation of the validity of the proclamation issued by the President.

 

“It signifies that this administration is not engaged in the political persecution of its critics but is only enforcing the law against anyone who goes against its command,” Panelo said.

 

Panelo reiterated that Malacañang respects the constitutional independence of the judiciary and it will continue to do so.

 

“The Executive Branch has and will always bow down to the majesty of the law, and it will not think twice in doing the same," he said.

 

Panelo, meanwhile, reiterated that Malacañang respects the constitutional independence of the judiciary and it will continue to do so.

 

“The Executive Branch has and will always bow down to the majesty of the law, and it will not think twice in doing the same for this particular case,” Panelo said, noting that it will not “unfairly appeal” to the pity of the public such as personalities in the opposition and will instead address the matter in the proper forum.

 

Panelo pointed out that the first jeopardy has not yet been validly terminated since the dismissal of the case for coup d'etat was based on a void executive grant, describing Trillanes’ case as “unique.”

 

“Existing legal remedies under the law may be availed of, considering especially the said court’s confirmation that Presidential Proclamation No. 572 (s. 2018) is legal,” Panelo said.

 

He also assured that the Office of the President will not preempt the Department of Justice or the Office of the Solicitor General from deciding which legal course it will take relative to the case.

 

“We will leave it to these offices to evaluate the available remedies, as well as to determine which steps may be endeavored, before the appropriate courts of law,” Panelo said.

 

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, said the fate of the case against Senator Trillanes IV will be up to the Supreme Court (SC).

 

In a press briefing, the justice chief said the case "ultimately will be decided by the Supreme Court", even as he noted the difference in the rulings of the two Makati courts hearing Trillanes' cases.

 

"These factual findings (by the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148) are in direct contravention or the exact opposite of the factual findings of Branch 150 of the same court in Makati where the rebellion case is pending until the present," Guevarra noted.

 

Pending before the SC is the petition by Trillanes, challenging the order of the President Rodrigo Duterte, which voided the senator's amnesty grant. The High Court remanded the cases to the Makati court in the meantime to resolve the factual questions.

 

"So we are not confronted with the situation where two branches of the same court have different findings," Guevarra said.

 

"The dismissal (of the case) has become final and executory," Soriano said, citing the legal doctrine of "immutability of a final and executory judgment," adding that the court had lost jurisdiction over the case after it had lapsed into becoming final.

 

Proclamation 572, signed by Duterte on Aug. 31, declared Trillanes' amnesty was declared void ab initio (from the beginning).

 

Based on the proclamation, Trillanes has no pending application for amnesty granted to all active and former personnel of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and supporters who joined the July 2003 Oakwood Mutiny, the February 2006 Marines stand-off and the November 2007 Manila Peninsula incident.

 

The proclamation also tasked the AFP and the PNP "to employ all lawful means to apprehend former (Lieutenant Senior Grade) Antonio Trillanes so that he can be recommitted to the detention facility where he had been incarcerated for him to stand trial for the crimes he is charged with," citing the power of the President under Article VII, Sec. 19 of the Constitution to grant amnesty.

 

Former President Benigno Aquino III granted amnesty to Trillanes and other soldiers who were involved in the above-mentioned uprisings through Proclamation 75 issued in November 2010.

 

Sought for a comment, the Philippine National Police (PNP) said it respects the court's ruling.

 

"The PNP as a law enforcement agency will always respect and uphold whatever is the decision of any judicial authority," PNP spokesperson Chief Supt. Benigno Durana Jr., said in a statement.

 

Secretary Guevarra said government lawyers will be filing within the week the necessary pleadings to ask  Judge Andres Soriano to take a second look at his order in connection with the criminal charges against Senator Trillanes.

 

"The DOJ (Department of Justice) will file, not later than Friday, a motion for partial reconsideration of the order of RTC-Makati Branch 148 (coup d’ etat) only insofar as it found that Sen. Trillanes had sufficiently shown that he filed his certificate of amnesty, and that therefore it follows that he also admitted his guilt for the offense of coup d’ etat and recanted all statements inconsistent with such admission of guilt," Guevarra told reporters.

 

Presidential Spokesperson and Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo earlier said Solicitor General Jose Calida intends to file ‘very soon’ a petition seeking the reversal of the decision before the Court of Appeals (CA).

 

Soriano earlier claimed he no longer had jurisdiction over the case against Trillanes under the legal doctrine of immutability of a final judgment, thus he cannot validly order his arrest as sought by prosecutors or issue a hold departure order anymore.

 

In the same order, however, Soriano said there is "no basis to believe that Proclamation 572 has breached any constitutional guaranty or that it has encroached on the constitutional power of either the judicial and executive branch".

 

Soriano said that while he may no longer order Trillanes arrest, a future situation may be more favorable to the government's cause.

 

"Meanwhile, the law is vibrant. Jurisprudence is its lifeblood. Subsequent jurisprudence may forge new horizons in which exceptions to the immutability of a final and executory judgment may be born," Soriano said in the same order.

 

The magistrate said that in voiding the grant of amnesty to Trillanes, Proclamation 572 "merely sought to correct what the executive branch perceives to be an erroneous grant of amnesty to Trillanes, who allegedly did not apply for amnesty and who failed to admit guilt and/or participation and involvement in, among others, the Oakwood Mutiny, and/or otherwise failed to recant previous statements contrary to such admissions."

 

Former Justice Secretary and current Senate Minority leader Franklin M. Drilon said  that the Supreme Court can no longer disturb the factual findings by the Makati Regional Trial Court Branch 148 on the case of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, citing the jurisprudence that the "Supreme Court is not a trier of facts."

 

"Well-settled is the rule that the Supreme Court is not a trier of fact. The Supreme Court cannot assume the role of trier of facts which, by law and jurisprudence, belongs to the lower courts," Drilon said in a statement. 

 

The case of Sen. Trillanes is undeniably a question of fact, Drilon emphasized.

 

"Factual findings of the lower courts are entitled to great weight and respect on appeal, and in fact accorded finality when supported by substantial evidence on the record, as stated in the case of Xentrex Motors, Inc. v. Court of Appeals (353 Phil. 258, 262 1998) and in a long line of other cases," the former justice secretary said.

 

In the case of Senator Trillanes, he said, the lower court has affirmed the fact that Trillanes validly complied with the requirements for his amnesty application.

 

"I do not see how this finding can be disturbed by the Supreme Court especially considering that the original decision of Makati RTC Branch 148 attained finality seven years ago," Drilon stressed.

 

It is a well-entrenched ruling that factual findings of the lower courts are given the highest degree of respect and great weight by appellate tribunals because they are in a better position to examine the real evidence and observe the demeanor of witnesses.

 

It is clear from Judge Soriano's decision that he carefully considered the testimonies of the witnesses, taking pains to detail the significant portions of their statements which led the Judge to his decision.

 

Hence, Drilon believes the Supreme Court will be hard-pressed to overturn the ruling of Makati RTC Branch 148.

 

"Any petition or appeal must then fail," said Drilon.

 

Earlier, Drilon hailed the Makati RTC Branch 148's decision dismissing the administration's case against Trillanes, saying "the rule of law has prevailed and will always prevail."

 

"I am relieved by the decision of RTC Judge Andres Soriano rejecting the attempts of the administration to harass opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes," Drilon said.

 

"Soriano's decision reinforces our belief that at the end of the day the rule of law will prevail and no amount of underhanded legal maneuvering will be rewarded by an independent judiciary. The resolution of this case will definitely help restore the perception of stability in our courts," Drilon said.

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HUMAN TRAFFICKING, TAX EVASION, EXPLOITATION, WAGE THEFT, OTHERS SLAPPED; ILLEGAL GUNS SEIZED

 

DALY CITY, California – The Filipino community in the Bay Area is in shock after the California Attorney General’s Office unraveled its findings after a year-long investigation of a Filipino family and the operations of their four adult daycare and two child care facilities in the area.

 

California Attorney General Xavier Becera and his team disclosed in a media conference their findings resulted to the filing of at least 59 criminal charges against the Gamos family composed of Carlina, 67; Joshua, 42; Noel, 40; and Gerlen, 38, who owned and operated the Rainbow Bright Day Care facilities in Daly City, South San Francisco and Pacifica and employed mostly Filipino immigrants.

 

Becera and the team said the charges included violating human rights and worker rights, tax evasion, wage theft, rape and possession of illegal weapons. The 59 charges may increase as authorities dig further into the operations of the care facilities, they added.

 

Among those who expressed shock were Dorie Paniza, RCFE and ARF operator and 6Beds Norcal president; Ron Simpson RCFE operator and 6Beds Socal president; and Gina Wasdyke, ARF operator and 6Beds founder and director.

 

“We express the shock we feel that such abhorrent events could happen in a licensed residential facility,” they said in a joint statement sent to Philippines Today. “It in no way represent who we are, and what we stand for,” they added.

 

“We express the horror and repulsion we feel reading about the charges against six Bay Area adult and child care residential facilities. Our hearts go out to all individuals, and their families, affected by this tragic, inhuman crime,” they said.

 

Becerra said at the news conference and on Twitter that the workers of the facilities helped initiate the investigation.

 

“It was the workers who helped bring this case to light, and it is the workers who are the greatest victims of Rainbow Bright and its operations,” Becerra said. “While the employees were providing by all accounts loving care, they were doing so under egregious circumstances.”

 

He said 26 of the charges filed were for grand theft of wages and labor amounting to approximately $8.5 million. Eight of the charges were for human trafficking and violence, and another three for rape.

 

Officials also found 14 illegal assault weapons, including a loaded pistol and three “ghost” rifles without serial numbers, at a childcare facility that was also the suspects’ residence while serving the warrants.

 

Becerra said agents have also seized luxury cars vehicles, including a Lamborghini.

 

“We expect additional charges to be filed,” he said.

 

Becerra disclosed hundreds of workers may have been victimized during the 10-year period covered by the charges.

 

The defendants allegedly targeted members of the Filipino community, many of whom were new to the United States, for labor exploitation.

 

In a news conference, Becerra said additional criminal charges will be filed related to the firearms.

 

The daycare also failed to pay its fair share of state income taxes, worker’s compensation and insurance.

 

He said that under the year-long investigation by the California Department of Justice’s Tax Recovery and Criminal Enforcement (TRaCE) Task Force, and included several state and local law enforcement agencies,investigators found that the suspects took away workers’ passports and forced them to work nearly 24 hours a day.

 

Since its creation in 2014, TRACE, Becerra said, has identified close to one-quarter of a billion dollars in unreported business income. Becerra urged  the public who may suspect similar crimes in their neighborhoods to contact the TRaCE task force at (855) 234-9949.

 

“What’s most painful as we discuss this is this is happening in neighborhoods,” Becerra said. “This could be happening in your backyard, in your neighborhood, with people you believe are living a regular life and being cared for.”

 

Workers slept on floors in garages in the homes that also operated as daycare facilities, Becerra said. The workers were locked outside sometimes in the rain when the owners were not home.

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