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(Photo from GMA News)

 

MANILA – To the chagrin of the opposition and critics, former First Lady and now congresswoman of Ilocos Norte Imelda Romualdez Marcos has escaped arrest and jail after the Sandiganbayan which had convicted her in seven graft cases and sentenced to several years in prison allowed her to post bail of P150,000.

 

The Sandiganbayan had sentenced the former first lady, now 89 years old, in each of her seven graft cases to six years and a month up to 11 years in prison, with perpetual disqualification from holding public office.

 

Mrs. Marcos was convicted for participating in the management of several Swiss foundations while she was a member of the Interim Batasang Pambansa and minister of the Ministry of Human Settlements from 1968 to 1986.

 

 Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo herself expressed her dismay at what she described as “mockery of the justice system” and the “measly” P150,000 bail set Mrs. Marcos’ temporary liberty.

 

 The Sandiganbayan’s fifth division granted the bail for the wife of the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos after she was ordered arrested for snubbing her November 9 promulgation, during which she was convicted in seven graft cases.

 

“The P150,000 bail was too measly compared with the enormity of what was stolen. Secondly, those are just loose change to her,” Robredo said in interviews.

 

“I was a lawyer for the poor. Somehow, I can see that for a P10,000 bail, a client would even mortgage some of their properties or borrow money from others just to come up with that amount,” she added.

 

The vice president said Marcos’ alibi on the day of her conviction was “the biggest insult” to Filipinos.

 

“In fact, the biggest insult to us was when she partied on the day of her conviction. But she reasoned that she was sick. It’s a mockery of the justice system,” Robredo added, referring to the birthday party of daughter Ilocos Norte Governor Maria Imelda “Imee” Marcos, who is running for senator in the 2019 elections, in their San Juan City mansion which was attended also by Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former Senate president Juan Ponce Enrile and others.

 

During the hearing of her “motion for leave of court to avail of post-conviction remedies,” Mrs. Marcos, who is running for governor of Ilocos Norte, claimed that had she known about the promulgation on November 9, she would have gone to the anti-graft court.

 

However, in the motion that she filed last Monday, she stated that her failure to attend was “solely because she was indisposed.” Her affidavit added that she was “suffering from multiple organ infirmities and was under strict orders to refrain from stressful conditions.”

 

All these ran contrary to her statement on November 9 that she was absent because it was her then lawyer, Robert Sison, who was “indisposed and confined at the Asian Hospital.”

 

On the very night of her conviction, she was seen in photos with other government officials in the birthday celebration of her daughter in San Juan.

 

The opposition and critics of the Marcoses were surprised that Mrs. Marcos returned to the House of Representatives and attended the sessions after posting bail, contradicting her statements that she was weak and sick. Before returning to the House, she was even photographed on a wheel chair.

 

The Sandiganbayan though has yet to decide whether Mrs. Marcos would be allowed to file a post-conviction bond for her graft charges.

 

The Sandiganbayan on Tuesday, Nov. 13, reportedly issued an arrest warrant against the former First Lady following her conviction for seven counts of graft last week.

 

But another report stated that the issuance of the arrest warrant was deferred following the filing of a motion to that effect by the Marcos lawyers, reportedly citing her age and condition.

 

The Sandiganbayan Fifth Division ordered the bail bonds to be posted by Marcos for the graft cases be forfeited due to her and her counsel’s “unjustified” absence during the promulgation of judgment on her cases.

 

“...The accused is given 30 days from today to explain why no judgment on the bonds should be issued. Let a warrant of arrest be issued against the accused,” the Sandiganbayan said in its order dated Nov. 9, 2018.

 

Sandiganbayan Presiding Justice Amparo Cabotaje-Tang later clarified conflicting reports stating that the 5th Division has not yet released an arrest warrant against  Marcos.

 

Cabotaje-Tang said the 5th Division decided to defer the release of the document after the camp of Mrs. Marcos filed a motion last Monday.

 

In the motion for leave of court to avail post-conviction remedies, Marcos asked for the deferment of the issuance of the warrant even though 5th Division Chairperson Rafael Lagos verbally ordered the release of the warrant last Friday when the verdict was handed down.

 

This developed as the anti-graft court is to rule next on the P200 billion civil suit filed by the Office of the Solicitor General against the Marcoses as the case was already submitted for decision at the 4th division of the Sandiganbayan.

 

 Senate President Vicente Sotto III said Mrs. Marcos, despite her age and health condition, should be arrested if a warrant is issued by the courts over her recent conviction for graft.

 

Earlier, Vice President Leni Robredo and other officials said Mrs. Marcos may still be arrested and detained as she was caught partying during her daughter Imee’s birthday with leaders like Speaker Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, former Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile, Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte and others. 

 

Marcos may still be sent to prison even at 89 years old, according to Robredo and Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III.

 

Robredo said the former first lady is still physically fit to go to jail despite old age as she can still go to a party.

                     
“Ito, kita naman natin, kita natin — iyong araw nga na lumabas iyong hatol, nasa diyaryo, nag-party pa.  Nag-party pa siya,” Robredo said in her radio program with Ely Saludar on RMN’s DZXL.

 

“Gustong sabihin, kung kaya pang mag-party, kaya pang lumagi sa kulungan,” she added.

 

Sotto said the issue on hand is simply whether if a warrant of arrest has been issued and not Marcos’ age or health.

 

“Whether it’s Mrs. Marcos or another person, whether it’s Senator (Antonio) Trillanes or whoever it is, the issue is, may warrant ba (is there a warrant)? ‘Yun ang importante doon, may warrant o wala (That is what is important here, if there’s a warrant or none),” he told reporters.

 

Kung may warrant, dapat arestuhin. Kung walang warrant, hintayin natin yung warrant. It’s as simple as that (If there’sa a warrant, she should be arrested. If none, then we have to wait for the warrant),” Sotto said.

 

Senator Francis Escudero, for his part, said Mrs. Marcos is disqualified from getting a presidential pardon since the Sandiganbayan’s decision that found her guilty of seven counts of graft is not yet final and executory.

 

Escudero, whose father was a fair-haired favorite Cabinet member of Mrs. Marcos, also said that appealing the conviction would also disqualify Marcos from pardon

 

Pimentel made the remark after PNP chief Director General Iscar Albayalde said the PNP had to consider the convict's age and health condition if a warrant for her arrest was issued.

 

"Even at an advanced age, a criminal can still be sent to prison," said Pimentel, a lawyer who topped the bar examinations in 1989.

 

"Ang exempted lang, mga bata," he added, in apparent reference to the country's juvenile justice laws.

 

Court records showed Mrs. Marcos and group have submitted their memorandum, the summary of their arguments, last July 31, 2018 while the OSG submitted its memorandum on May 8, 2018.

 

The P250 million civil case against the Marcoses was filed by the OSG in 1987 and was amended for the third time in 1990. In the amended complaint, the OSG had said the Marcoses illegally accumulated funds and other property estimated at P200 billion.

 

Aside from Mrs. Marcos, the defendants in the case filed in 1987 include  the late President Marcos; their children Maria Imelda or Imee, Irene and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.; in-laws Tomas Manotoc and Gregorio Araneta III; Nemesio Co, Yeung Chun Kam, Yeung Chun Ho, Yeung Chun Fan, Imelda Cojuangco, and the Estate of Ramon Cojuangco.

 

The OSG asked from the defendants more than P200 billion damages “to reimburse expenses for the recovery of the defendants’ ill-gotten wealth reasonably estimated at P250 million or in such amount as may be proven during the trial.”

 

PCGG is also seeking P50 billion in moral damages, P1 billion exemplary damages, attorneys’ fees, and “treble judicial costs.”

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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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