MANILA, Philippines?Two veteran senators Sunday said President Benigno Aquino III?s order to review the coup d?etat case of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV was tantamount to meddling in the judiciary and the Senate.
But Senators Joker Arroyo and Edgardo Angara were careful not to directly criticize Mr. Aquino for ordering the review, with Arroyo blaming Palace advisers for giving the Chief Executive ?bum advice? and Angara saying he believed Mr. Aquino was a ?well-meaning? person.
Mr. Aquino has said Trillanes may have been a victim of injustice for having been charged with participating in a coup d?etat in connection with his role in the 2003 Oakwood mutiny. The detained former Navy officer has been barred from attending the Senate sessions since he was elected senator in 2007.
Mr. Aquino?s directive coincided with a tight battle for the Senate presidency. If allowed to attend the sessions, Trillanes is expected to vote for Mr. Aquino?s ally and Liberal Party mate, Sen. Francis Pangilinan.
Both Pangilinan and rival Sen. Manuel Villar Jr. of the Nacionalista Party, have been unable to get the majority support of 13 senators, with only a week to go before the new Congress opens on July 26.
Palace officials have denied that Mr. Aquino is interfering with the judiciary.
Separation of powers
Interviewed over dzBB radio, Angara said Mr. Aquino?s directive would affect ?fundamental principles,? namely the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary, the independence of the courts and the autonomy of the Senate.
He said dropping the coup case against Trillanes could create a backlash and ?boomerang? on the President.
?If there was a miscarriage of justice, let the courts redress the issue without anyone telling them to do it because it?s inherent in the judicial system,? Angara said.
He said Mr. Aquino?s order also could be seen as ?disregarding the military court justice system.?
?More important to me on the issue of Senate independence, this may not be related to the desire of (the President?s) party to get the Senate leadership, but the timing is so close that people may suspect that this was being done so that Sonny (Trillanes) can vote for its candidate. That is what we?re trying to avoid,? Angara said.
He told the Philippine Daily Inquirer that Mr. Aquino?s statement was ?unfortunate.?
Angara, who belongs to a Senate bloc whose support he claims will determine the chamber?s presidency, said that ?wooing? of his group had grown intensive.
?And that is what we?re trying to avoid because (the Senate presidency) is an internal affair of senators. We should not destroy our credibility and effectiveness by displaying our susceptibility to outside forces,? he said.
Angara said he knew for certain that reports that Sen. Ramon ?Bong? Revilla Jr. had committed support to Pangilinan was ?baseless.?
He said his bloc?which includes Revilla, Loren Legarda, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Lito Lapid, Vicente ?Tito? Sotto III and Gregorio Honasan?was likely to have a consensus by Wednesday on whom to support.
?Every word is policy?
Arroyo said in a phone interview that the review order was ?presidential interference on a judicial matter.?
Arroyo belongs to Villar?s bloc, whose members include Miriam Defensor-Santiago, Pia Cayetano, Alan Peter Cayetano and Ferdinand Marcos Jr.
Recalling his previous statement that it would be good if Mr. Aquino enjoyed his first 100 days in office free of heckling, Arroyo said this ?immunity does not include his subalterns who give him bum advice.?
?The President?s legal advisers should understand that every word of the President, formal or informal, is a statement of policy. It cannot be trivialized. It cannot be classified as a personal opinion. He is President every second of the day,? Arroyo said.
He said the Trillanes case was already in court and ?in plain language, once the executive files the case in court ? the executive should no longer interfere.?
?Allowing Trillanes to participate fully or partially with the Senate duties, the sole and final say is with the courts. The executive cannot interfere with that,? Arroyo said, adding that this was why the Armed Forces could also not interfere because the Trillanes case was now before a civil court.
Sotto said that even if Trillanes was allowed to attend the Senate session on July 26 and vote for Pangilinan, the race would still end up in a stalemate, based on his own ?count.?
The President?s order for a review of Trillanes? coup case, however, has won the backing of a member of the Feliciano Commission, which investigated the root causes of the Oakwood mutiny.
Retired Commodore Rex Robles said Mr. Aquino?s position on Trillanes was not ?inconsistent? with recommendations of the commission.
?There is no inconsistency here,? Robles told the Inquirer. ?There should really be punishment, but it must fit the offense. The charge should not be far removed from the crime committed.?
He agreed with Mr. Aquino that Trillanes might have committed an offense other than coup d?etat.
?It could have been many things short of coup d?etat,? Robles said. ?The coup charge made it clear that it would virtually not prosper. The elements of a coup were but concocted by the government to protect itself.?
Unlike in past military rebellions where the perpetrators were forgiven by then President Fidel Ramos, Robles said the Oakwood mutineers were punished far more severely than they should have been.
?The pendulum swung from one end to another, from very light to very hard punishment,? he said.
Malacañang defended Mr. Aquino?s order on the Trillanes case.
?That is his personal opinion,? Mr. Aquino?s spokesperson, Edwin Lacierda, said. ?There was no judgment there. We leave (the decision) to the appropriate officials.?
Lacierda said the order would cover only the charges Trillanes was facing in a military court.
On the rebellion case pending in a civilian court, ?we can?t do anything about it,? he said. ?We will not interfere with its independence.?