Inordinate delay, mootness could dismiss court martial case vs Trillanes

Opinion & Analysis Philippines Sep 14, 2018 at 4:20 pm
By Atty. Romulo  B. Macalintal

By Atty. Romulo B. Macalintal

Just because the word “court” is used in “courts martial” or “military courts” does not mean that they are courts within our judicial system.  In many cases, the Supreme Court held that “courts martial (or military tribunals) are not courts within our judicial system and are simply instrumentalities of the Executive power (and that) the presiding officer at a court martial is not a judge but is a military officer.”[1]

While military courts or courts martial have jurisdiction over offenses committed by military officers or personnel, Republic Act No. 7055 provides for the jurisdiction of civilian courts over certain offenses involving them. Section 1 of said law says that military officials or personnel who commit crimes or offenses penalized under the Revised Penal Code (RPC) or other penal laws “shall be tried by the proper civil courts, except when the offense, as determined by the civil court, is service-connected, in which case, the offense shall be tried by court martial.”

When then navy officer and now Senator Antonio Trillanes led the so-called Oakwood mutiny in 2003 with other military officers, several charges for violation of Articles of War were filed against them by the AFP before a court martial. But when the crime of coup detat, an offense penalized under the RPC, was filed before the Regional Trial Court (RTC) of Makati, said charges before the martial court were all absorbed by the RTC on the ground that said charges were “not service-connected” but committed in furtherance of the alleged crime of coup detat.

Despite said RTC order, the AFP still prosecuted Trillanes and 28 other officers before a general court martial for violation of Article 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman) of the Articles of War.  This was the only case then pending with the military court aside from the coup detat and the rebellion cases then pending before Branches 148 and 150, respectively, of Makati City RTC when former President Aquino issued  an Amnesty in 2011 in their favor which, only recently, was revoked by President Duterte under Proclamation No. 572.

For sure, the military court cannot revive the case against Trillanes involving alleged violation of Article 96 since the penalty for such an offense is merely “dismissal from service” which was rendered moot or impossible to implement since Trillanes is already out of the military service since 2007 when he was elected Senator and up to the present.  Even granting for the sake of argument that the case could be re-opened by the court martial, still it is dismissible since a case involving an incident in 2003 or 15 years ago, will certainly qualify  in the list of cases dismissed by the Supreme Court for “inordinate delay in the proceedings” that violate Section 16, Article III of the Constitution that “all persons shall have the right to a speedy disposition of their cases before all judicial, quasi-judicial or administrative bodies.”.

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[1] Tamayo v De Villa, GR 92606, July 26, 1991, citing Separate Opinion of Chief Justice Claudio Teehankee in Vargas v RADM (1986).