Saturday, December 18, 2010

Amnesty Case & Webb Case

Judge Oscar Pimentel must have agonized about what to do with the coup d’etat case before him in the face of the amnesty proclamation. He must have anticipated pros and cons regarding whatever decision he might make. In the end he chose to defer promulgation of his decision.

My guess is that, if he had decided to promulgate his judgment, it would have been a judgment of guilty. But the judge, it seems, did not want to have a guilty judgment staining the career of the soldiers. Thus he gave them the opportunity to avoid legal stain through the benefit of amnesty.

If, however, his judgment were one of acquittal, it would have been in complete harmony with the amnesty proclamation. No stain would have touched the soldiers.

However, in my view, it would not have been that bad if a judgment of guilty had been promulgated. For one, the offense the soldiers are charged with is not such a disgraceful one. They probably consider it a feather in their cap. And they enjoyed some degree of public support for what they did. For another, the obvious sentiment of President Aquino is to set them free. The fact that he issued an amnesty proclamation is indication that he is ready to grant them pardon. Thus, if conviction had happened, an absolute pardon would have erased their guilt instantaneously and would have given them the right to immediate release just like Webb and company.

The amnesty proclamation, moreover, compared with pardon, has its disadvantages. Under amnesty, the benefit they expect will not come immediately. They will have to apply for amnesty before the amnesty commission and show that they are entitled to the benefits of amnesty. Moreover, -- and this is the more tricky part – current jurisprudence requires that one applying for amnesty should plead guilty to the offense charged. Some prospective amnesty beneficiaries might not want this.

In the interest of clarifying the jurisprudence on amnesty, however, I welcome the current amnesty proclamation. To my mind, the requirement of a plea of guilty is not altogether clear. The requirement was first brought up in a dissenting opinion in the Barrioquinto case arising under the 1946 amnesty proclamation of President Roxas. It became obiter dictum in subsequent amnesty cases. Is it really doctrine now?

The Vizconde Case

Understandbly the supporters of the Vizconde family are unhappy. There are calls for the reinvestigation of the case. What reinvestigation is possible? Specifically, is a reconsideration of the acquittal possible? The Public Attorney’s Office, surprisingly, thinks so. One reason given is the fact that four justices had dissented and that therefore this has created doubt about the correctness of the decision.

What I know about cases like this, however, is the basic constitutional law that an acquittal, right or wrong, may not be reviewed. As one observed, that doctrine is Consti 101. A reconsideration would place the accused in prohibited second jeopardy. "No error, however, flagrant, committed by the court against the state, can be reserved by it for decision by the Supreme Court when the defendant has once been placed in jeopardy and discharged even though the discharge was the result of the error committed." A judgment in a criminal case once final cannot be reopened. A judgment of acquittal is immediately final. “A single prosecution for any offense is all the law allows. It protects an accused from harassment, enables him to treat what had transpired as a closed chapter in his life, either to exult in his freedom or to be resigned to whatever penalty is imposed, and is a bar to unnecessary litigation, in itself time consuming and expense-producing for the state as well."

If at all, an acquittal can only be the subject of a petition for certiorari. But the only ground for such petition would be grave abuse of discretion by a judge amounting to lack or excess of jurisdiction. In such a situation, since the acquittal would be deemed to have been made without jurisdiction, it really would not be an acquittal at all and would not terminate the case. Certiorari would not be a new case but merely a continuation of the unfinished original prosecution.

In the Vizconde case, the PAO officer who is recommending reconsideration would have a hard time showing grave abuse of discretion by seven justices. The concept of grave abuse of discretion means “such capricious and whimsical exercise of judgment as is equivalent to lack of jurisdiction. The abuse of discretion must be patent and gross as to amount to an evasion of positive duty or a virtual refusal to perform a duty enjoined by law, or to act at all in contemplation of law, as where the power is exercised in an arbitrary and despotic manner by reason of passion or hostility.”

Another call for review, coming from the Department of Justice, as I understand it, is not about reviewing the acquittal of Webb and company. It is about reviewing the murder case for the purpose of finding who should really be prosecuted for the crime if it is not yet barred by prescription. Webb and company can no longer be the object of this investigation even if the Supreme Court decision did not say that they were innocent. The Court had simply said that there was reasonable doubt about their guilt. But innocent or not, they already are protected by the rule on double jeopardy. The DOJ would have to look for other persons to investigate.

20 December 2010

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