The President issued Proclamation 572, series of 2018, revoking the amnesty of Senator Sonny Trillanes because he allegedly did not file any application for amnesty and also because he did not admit to having committed crimes (which was a condition for amnesty). The Department of Justice filed motions for issuing warrants of arrest in the two courts where his cases were pending – RTC Makati Branch 150 (for rebellion) and RTC Makati Branch 148 (for coup d’etat). RTC 150 issued a warrant of arrest against Trillanes. RTC 148 did not. The difference? Senator Trillanes lost his case in RTC 150 because he did not present his evidence correctly. In RTC 148, his lawyer learned his lesson. Trillanes won his case in RTC 148 because he presented his evidence correctly.
To the non-lawyer, it seems strange that Trillanes was using the same set of facts. He lost in one case and won in another. The non-lawyer may say that the problem may lie with the judge. But this is not always the case. Whether biased or not, a judge would have no choice to rule in one way if the evidence clearly points to it. If the evidence is not clear, then it’s anyone’s guess how a judge would rule.
So, the key is to ensure that the evidence clearly points the judge to the conclusion you wants the judge to make.
Law students have an entire two-unit subject on evidence. The lessons are repeated in the students’ senior year during remedial law review classes. Bar review centers repeat them during bar review classes.
Presentation of evidence is the second most important part of the trial because it determines what evidence the judge can consider in his decision or resolution.
What went wrong for Trillanes in RTC 150?
To put it simply, Trillanes did not present his evidence correctly in RTC 150. Because it was not correctly presented, the judge ruled against him.
What went wrong?
There are two types of evidence the judge could weigh. The best evidence is the primary or original evidence. It consists of testimony of witnesses with personal knowledge, object evidence (i.e., the pen used to sign a document , the knife used to murder someone, photos, etc.), official records and certified true copies, and original documentary evidence. One has to present people to authenticate the evidence – to prove that the evidence presented is real, not just manufactured.
The second type of evidence is secondary evidence. These are photocopies, pictures, or other types of evidence to show the existence of the primary evidence, or of facts that would demonstrate the existence of primary evidence. But secondary evidence can only be presented if one shows that the primary evidence is missing and cannot be found. One cannot use secondary evidence without first proving that one cannot get the primary evidence. There are actually other nuances, but they are too detailed to summarize.
(I actually distilled a four-hour class session into two paragraphs here.)
But this was where Trillanes went wrong in RTC 150.
He did not have a lot of primary evidence. He had eyewitness accounts. He presented the person who presided over his sworn statement during the application process. The overwhelming amount of primary evidence was on the side of the prosecution. The problem was that Trillanes did not present his secondary evidence correctly. We see this is in the ruling of RTC 150 when it stated:
“Moreover, presentation of secondary evidence is unavailing for failure to satisfy the requirements in laying the predicate under Rule 130, sections 3, 5, 6, and 7 of the Rules of Court.”
Those rules mentioned by the court was what I just wrote about above. If Trillanes presented his secondary evidence correctly – in a way that the court could have no wiggle room, then the resolution could have been made in his favor.
The court could only make a ruling based on the evidence that is properly presented. It is supposed to ignore improperly presented evidence.
The Trillanes cases are a lesson to law students and law practitioners to make sure they take seriously their law on evidence. These cases demonstrate how presentation of evidence matters, and how the same evidence, if presented improperly can mean a lot of difference.
What did Trillanes do correctly in RTC 148?
Trillanes’ lawyer learned from the debacle in RTC 150.
In the presentation of evidence in RTC 148, Trillanes presented secondary evidence properly, which led to its being fully appreciated by Judge Soriano in RTC 148.
RTC 148 found the prosecution’s evidence convincing. But it noted that the prosecution’s evidence was presented only to prove that it did not have any record of Trillanes’ application. The court noted that during presentation of the prosecution’s witness, the witness said that she is not saying that Trillanes never filed an application – only that she has no record of it.
This gave a sufficient opening for Trillanes.
Trillanes submitted eyewitness accounts AND properly presented a lot of secondary evidence. Because of the preponderance of evidence, the judge considered his case more convincing. In this case, the evidence presented by the defense outweighed the evidence presented by the prosecution.
From the evidence, the judge decided that there was no basis to disturb judgment already rendered in Trillanes’ case for coup d’etat. Notwithstanding Proclamation 572, Trillanes was able to show that he filed an application for amnesty and admitted his guilt to the crime of coup d’etat.
What effect does Proclamation 572 have?
Trillanes questioned the constitutionality of Proclamation 572. But it looks like he never presented any evidence as to its constitutionality, so the court had to rule against him – that Proclamation 572 is constitutional.
But as to its effect in this case, there was none.
The President issued Proclamation 572 because it could not find any record of Trillanes’ amnesty application. It remains constitutional Trillanes has not been able to successfully prove that it was issued unconstitutionally. But Proclamation 572 is relevant only if he could NOT prove that he actually filed for amnesty and admitted his guilt.
He was able to prove in RTC 148 that he filed an application and admitted his guilt for the case pending there (coup d’ etat). Whether or not he was able to do the same for his other case for rebellion is a different matter, and one which the proper court would decide on its own.