If I were a rebel being offered amnesty, I may have to consider a perplexing choice. Should I admit guilt or plead innocence? It is generally believed now that jurisprudence requires one who wants to avail of amnesty to admit his guilt. Is that really the law and, if it is, does it admit of exceptions? My view, however, is that the need to admit guilt is not a firmly established rule.
The 1946 amnesty proclamation issued by President Roxas with the concurrence of Congress covered members of the guerilla forces who had committed crimes in the course of their guerilla activities. In the case of Barrioquinto v Fernandez the Court said: “There is no necessity for an accused to admit his responsibility for the commission of a criminal act before a court or Amnesty Commission may investigate and extend or not to him the benefits of amnesty. The fact that he pleads not guilty or that he has not committed the act with which he is charged, does not necessarily prove that he is not guilty thereof. Notwithstanding his denial, the evidence for the prosecution or complainant may show the contrary, as it is generally the case in criminal proceedings, and what should in such a case be determined is whether or not the offense committed is of political character. The plea of not having committed the offense made by an accused simply means that he can not be convicted of the offense charged because he is not guilty thereof, and, even if the evidence would show that he is, because he has committed it in furtherance of the resistance to the enemy or against persons aiding in the war efforts of the enemy, and not for purely political motives.”
For the Court in the case, therefore, what Penal Code offense the accused committed was not the important factor but rather whether the offense was committed “in furtherance of the resistance to the enemy or against persons aiding in the war efforts of the enemy, and for purely political motives.”
Even then, however, this view of the Court was not unanimously held. Justice Tuazon had dissented and in a later decision he wrote an obiter dictum thus: “The writer of this decision maintained in previous decisions, contrary to the view of the majority of the Court, that it is rank inconsistency for one to justify an act, or seek forgiveness for an act, which according to him, he has not committed; that amnesty presupposes the commission of a crime and that when an accused says he has not committed a crime he cannot have any use for amnesty; that where an amnesty proclamation imposes certain conditions, as in this case, it is incumbent upon the accused to prove the existence of such conditions; that a petition for amnesty is in the nature of a plea of confession and avoidance, under which principle the pleader has to confess the allegations against him before he can be allowed to set out matters which, if true, would defeat the action.”
This was repeated in a later case, again obiter, which according to the opinion revealed an "almost unbelievable orgy of bloody executions, reminiscent of the French Revolution."
Finally, however, in Vera v. People, a 1963 decision, the need for admission of guilt seems to have been officially recognized as a prerequisite for availing of the benefit of amnesty. Should this be applied to the mutineers against the Arroyo administration?
The said Vera v. People case, however, does not seem to be sure of the sweeping applicability of the rule requiring admission of guilt. Immediately after affirming the rule, the Court said: “At any rate, the facts established before the Commission do not bring this case within the terms of Amnesty Proclamation No. 8. Note that said proclamation extends its provisions to ‘all persons who committed any act penalized under the Revised Penal Code in furtherance of the resistance to the enemy or against persons aiding in the war effort of the enemy.’ As found by the Commission, the killing of the deceased (Lozañes) was not in furtherance of the resistance movement, but was due to the rivalry between the Hunter's Guerrilla, to which he belonged, and the Vera's Guerrilla of petitioners.” In other words, the real reason for the denial of amnesty was not that the accused did not admit guilt but rather that the offense was not covered by the amnesty proclamation.
This brings us to the mutineers against the Arroyo administration. They do not seem to be accused of having committed any other crime than that of mutiny against Arroyo. It seems to me that in their case it would be pointless to ask them whether indeed they committed mutiny. They went through elaborate ceremonies which were meant to be symbolic of their noble goal. They seem to have considered their deed a patriotic feather in their cap and they will willingly assert that, yes, we did, even if we now regret having done it.
It seems to me therefore that the need to admit guilt should apply only when the offense alleged is something that can be done for motives that may have nothing to do with defeating a declared enemy. The admission enables the court to determine more easily whether the act is a proper object of amnesty.
29 November 2010