Justice Department to invoke Jalosjos Ruling to keep Trillanes in detention

The Department of Justice is set to use the Supreme Court decision in People vs. Jalosjos, where convicted rapist and pedophile Romeo Jalosjos used the “disenfranchisement” card to try to wiggle out of his jail term, in opposing Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ bid to be released from a military jail. Jalosjos was not successful and it remains to be seen whether this would suffice to keep Trillanes in detention.

The argument is that if Sen. Trillanes is not given over to the custody of the Senate, it would effectively disenfranchise the 11 million Filipinos who voted for him.

The Jalosjos ruling was subsequently applied in the extradition case of Congressman Mark Jimenez. In holding that the equal-protection clause of the Constitution precludes the giving of special treatment to Jimenez despite his election to public office and the possible disenfranchisement of his constituents, the Court said:

“While his extradition was pending, Respondent Jimenez was elected as a member of the House of Representatives. On that basis, he claims that his detention will disenfranchise his Manila district of 600,000 residents. We are not persuaded. In People v. Jalosjos, the Court has already debunked the disenfranchisement argument when it ruled thus:

When the voters of his district elected the accused-appellant to Congress, they did so with full awareness of the limitations on his freedom of action. They did so with the knowledge that he could achieve only such legislative results which he could accomplish within the confines of prison. To give a more drastic illustration, if voters elect a person with full knowledge that he is suffering from a terminal illness, they do so knowing that at any time, he may no longer serve his full term in office.

In the ultimate analysis, the issue before us boils down to a question of constitutional equal protection.

The Constitution guarantees: ‘x x x nor shall any person be denied the equal protection of laws.’ This simply means that all persons similarly situated shall be treated alike both in rights enjoyed and responsibilities imposed. The organs of government may not show any undue favoritism or hostility to any person. Neither partiality nor prejudice shall be displayed.

Does being an elective official result in a substantial distinction that allows different treatment? Is being a Congressman a substantial differentiation which removes the accused-appellant as a prisoner from the same class as all persons validly confined under law?

The performance of legitimate and even essential duties by public officers has never been an excuse to free a person validly [from] prison. The duties imposed by the ‘mandate of the people’ are multifarious. The accused-appellant asserts that the duty to legislate ranks highest in the hierarchy of government. The accused-appellant is only one of 250 members of the House of Representatives, not to mention the 24 members of the Senate, charged with the duties of legislation. Congress continues to function well in the physical absence of one or a few of its members. Depending on the exigency of Government that has to be addressed, the President or the Supreme Court can also be deemed the highest for that particular duty. The importance of a function depends on the need for its exercise. The duty of a mother to nurse her infant is most compelling under the law of nature. A doctor with unique skills has the duty to save the lives of those with a particular affliction. An elective governor has to serve provincial constituents. A police officer must maintain peace and order. Never has the call of a particular duty lifted a prisoner into a different classification from those others who are validly restrained by law.

A strict scrutiny of classifications is essential lest[,] wittingly or otherwise, insidious discriminations are made in favor of or against groups or types of individuals.

The Court cannot validate badges of inequality. The necessities imposed by public welfare may justify exercise of government authority to regulate even if thereby certain groups may plausibly assert that their interests are disregarded.

We, therefore, find that election to the position of Congressman is not a reasonable classification in criminal law enforcement. The functions and duties of the office are not substantial distinctions which lift him from the class of prisoners interrupted in their freedom and restricted in liberty of movement. Lawful arrest and confinement are germane to the purposes of the law and apply to all those belonging to the same class.”
It must be noted that even before private respondent ran for and won a congressional seat in Manila, it was already of public knowledge that the United States was requesting his extradition. Hence, his constituents were or should have been prepared for the consequences of the extradition case against their representative, including his detention pending the final resolution of the case. Premises considered and in line with Jalosjos, we are constrained to rule against his claim that his election to public office is by itself a compelling reason to grant him bail.”

Thus, a compelling legal argument, grounded on constitutional considerations, exists for keeping Trillanes in jail. It would be interesting to see if the Supreme Court will hew to its previous pronouncements or make an exception in the case of the senator from Caloocan (lately of the navy brig).

Politically, however, it behooves the administration not to make a martyr of Trillanes and make him and his situation a rallying point of the anti-Arroyo forces. The sympathy and protest votes got him elected in the first place. He might just ride the rising wave of anti-Gloria sentiment to further advance his agenda.

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