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SC junks Trillanes dream to attend Senate hearings

June 28, 2008 02:19:00
Kristine L. Alave
Philippine Daily Inquirer

MANILA, Philippines-The Supreme Court on Friday quashed the dream of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, who is on trial for coup d'etat against the Arroyo administration, to discharge his legislative duties on the Senate floor.

In a unanimous 16-page decision penned by Associate Justice Conchita Carpio Morales, the high court en banc has barred Trillanes from attending Senate hearings while he has pending cases, affirming the decision of Makati City Regional Trial Court Branch 148 Judge Oscar Pimentel Sr.

In his petition to overturn Pimentel's ruling, which was issued on July 2007, Trillanes reiterated his request to be allowed to attend all Senate functions, to have an office in his detention cell at the Marine Brig, Fort Bonifacio, and to receive members of his staff in his detention office.

He stressed that ex-Armed Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Hermogenes Esperon Jr. did not overrule the Marine Brig's decision allowing him to participate in the Senate sessions.

He also asked the court's permission to give interviews and statements to the media.

As a detainee who has yet to be convicted of coup d'etat and rebellion charges before the civilian and military courts, Trillanes said he should enjoy civil and political rights.

He added that there were enough precedents allowing liberal treatment of detainees, citing the cases of deposed President Joseph Estrada and former Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) Gov. Nur Misuari.

Millions voted for him

Trillanes noted that he was not a flight risk, unlike ex-Rep. Romeo Jalosjos, who was convicted of raping a minor and tried to evade arrest.

Jalosjos was prevented from dispensing his legislative duties when he was reelected despite the rape conviction.

Furthermore, Trillanes, who placed 11th in the 2007 senatorial race, stressed that to deny him his request would be tantamount to disenfranchising the millions of voters who had elected him.

Trillanes is one of dozens of junior officers and enlisted personnel who took over Oakwood Premier apartment-hotel in Makati City on July 2003 to air their grievances against the Arroyo administration and to decry the alleged corruption in the military and the government.

Non-bailable offense

Last year, as the Arroyo administration was embroiled in a corruption scandal, Trillanes and other junior officers walked out of their Makati hearing and took over the Manila Peninsula Hotel in Makati City, where in a standoff, they decried the corruption in the government.

The high court denied Trillanes' requests, saying that although the senator is not a convicted prisoner, the fact that he is on trial for a nonbailable offense makes his "rights more limited than those of the public."

Citing a past decision, the high tribunal said: "All prisoners whether under preventive detention or serving final sentence cannot practice their profession nor engage in any business or occupation, or hold office, elective or appointive, while in detention."

It added that election to Congress was insufficient in granting the petitioner more rights than the normal prisoner. The Marine Brig's recommendation was not binding on the court.

The high tribunal also said that Trillanes could not compare his case with those of Estrada and Misuari as his requests were not for emergency leaves.

Flight risk

Trillanes also proved to be a flight risk, despite his insistence that he isn't, the high court said, citing the Nov. 29, 2007 incident where Trillanes and other officers on trial went past the security forces and headed for another five-star hotel to issue anti-Arroyo statements.

"The account, dubbed this time as the 'Manila Pen Incident,' proves that petitioner's argument bites the dust. The risk that he would escape ceased to be neither remote nor nil, as in fact, the cause for foreboding became real," the decision said.

The high tribunal also debunked Trillanes' disenfranchisement argument, saying the "election, or more precisely, reelection to office does not obliterate a criminal charge."

Misimpression

The senator's contention that a public official cannot be removed for offenses committed before his term is not acceptable as the case against him is not administrative in nature, according to the decision.

It is a "misimpression" that the people's vote is louder than the "restraints" set in the Constitution and jurisprudence, it said.

"The Petitioner's electoral victory only signifies pertinently that when the voters elected him to the Senate, they did so with full awareness of the limitations on his freedom of action and with the knowledge that he could only achieve such legislative results which he could accomplish within the confines of prison," the high court added.

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