LT. (SG) EUGENE GONZALES, LT. (SG) ANDY TORRATO, LT. (SG) ANTONIO TRILLANES IV, CPT. GARY ALEJANO, LT. (SG) JAMES LAYUG, CPT. GERARDO GAMBALA, CPT. NICANOR FAELDON, LT. (SG) MANUEL CABOCHAN, ENS. ARMAND PONTEJOS, LT. (JG) ARTURO PASCUA, and 1LT. JONNEL SANGGALANG,
- versus -
NARCISO ABAYA, in his capacity as Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the
G.R. No. 164007
For our resolution is the Petition for Prohibition (with prayer for a temporary restraining order) filed by the above-named members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), herein petitioners, against the AFP Chief of Staff and the Judge Advocate General, respondents.
The facts are:
Navy Lt. (SG) Antonio Trillanes IV, the troops sported red armbands emblazoned
with the emblem of the Magdalo faction of the Katipunan.
troops then, through broadcast media, announced their grievances against the
administration of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, such as the graft and corruption
in the military, the illegal sale of arms and ammunition to the enemies of
the State, and the bombings in
About noontime of the same day, President Arroyo issued Proclamation No. 427 declaring a state of rebellion, followed by General Order No. 4 directing the AFP and PNP to take all necessary measures to suppress the rebellion then taking place in Makati City. She then called the soldiers to surrender their weapons at in the afternoon of that same day.
In order to avoid a bloody confrontation, the government sent negotiators to dialogue with the soldiers. The aim was to persuade them to peacefully return to the fold of the law. After several hours of negotiation, the government panel succeeded in convincing them to lay down their arms and defuse the explosives placed around the premises of the Oakwood Apartments. Eventually, they returned to their barracks.
A total of 321 soldiers, including petitioners herein, surrendered to the authorities.
National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) investigated the incident and
recommended that the military personnel involved be charged with coup detat defined and penalized
under Article 134-A of the Revised Penal Code, as amended. On
On the same date, respondent Chief of Staff issued Letter Order No. 625 creating a Pre-Trial Investigation Panel tasked to determine the propriety of filing with the military tribunal charges for violations of the Articles of War under Commonwealth Act No. 408, as amended, against the same military personnel. Specifically, the charges are: (a) violation of Article 63 for disrespect toward the President, the Secretary of National Defense, etc., (b) violation of Article 64 for disrespect toward a superior officer, (c) violation of Article 67 for mutiny or sedition, (d) violation of Article 96 for conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and (e) violation of Article 97 for conduct prejudicial to good order and military discipline.
Of the original 321 accused in Criminal Case No. 03-2784, only 243 (including petitioners herein) filed with the RTC, Branch 148 an Omnibus Motion praying that the said trial court assume jurisdiction over all the charges filed with the military tribunal. They invoked Republic Act (R.A.) No. 7055.
Meanwhile, on November 11, 2003, the DOJ, after conducting a reinvestigation, found probable cause against only 31 (petitioners included) of the 321 accused in Criminal Case No. 03-2784. Accordingly, the prosecution filed with the RTC an Amended Information.
In an Order dated
Subsequently, or on
For its part, the RTC, on
In the meantime, Colonel Julius A. Magno, in his capacity as officer-in-charge of the JAGO, reviewed the findings of the Pre-Trial Investigation Panel. He recommended that 29 of the officers involved in the Oakwood incident, including petitioners, be prosecuted before a general court martial for violation of Article 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman) of the Articles of War.
Petitioners maintain that since the RTC has made a determination in its Order of February 11, 2004 that the offense for violation of Article 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman) of the Articles of War is not service-connected, but is absorbed in the crime of coup detat, the military tribunal cannot compel them to submit to its jurisdiction.
The Solicitor General, representing the respondents, counters that R.A. No. 7055 specifies which offenses covered by the Articles of War are service-connected. These are violations of Articles 54 to 70, 72 to 92, and 95 to 97. The law provides that violations of these Articles are properly cognizable by the court martial. As the charge against petitioners is violation of Article 96 which, under R.A. No. 7055 is a service-connected offense, then it falls under the jurisdiction of the court martial.
Subsequently, petitioners filed with this Court a Supplemental Petition raising the additional issue that the offense charged before the General Court Martial has prescribed. Petitioners alleged therein that during the pendency of their original petition, respondents proceeded with the Pre-Trial Investigation for purposes of charging them with violation of Article 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman) of the Articles of War; that the Pre-Trial Investigation Panel then referred the case to the General Court Martial; that almost two years since the Oakwood incident on July 27, 2003, only petitioner Lt. (SG) Antonio Trillanes was arraigned, and this was done under questionable circumstances; that in the hearing of July 26, 2005, herein petitioners moved for the dismissal of the case on the ground that they were not arraigned within the prescribed period of two (2) years from the date of the commission of the alleged offense, in violation of Article 38 of the Articles of War; that the offense charged prescribed on July 25, 2005; that the General Court Martial ruled, however, that the prescriptive period shall end only at 12:00 midnight of July 26, 2005; that (a)s midnight of July 26, 2005 was approaching and it was becoming apparent that the accused could not be arraigned, the prosecution suddenly changed its position and asserted that 23 of the accused have already been arraigned; and that petitioners moved for a reconsideration but it was denied by the general court martial in its Order dated September 14, 2005.
In his Comment, the Solicitor General prays that the Supplemental Petition be denied for lack of merit. He alleges that contrary to petitioners pretensions, all the accused were duly arraigned on July 13 and 18, 2005. The (r)ecords show that in the hearing on July 13, 2005, all the 29 accused were present and, (o)n that day, Military Prosecutor Captain Karen Ong Jags read the Charges and Specifications from the Charge Sheet in open court (pp. 64, TSN, July 13, 2005).
The sole question for our resolution is whether the petitioners are entitled to the writ of prohibition.
There is no dispute that petitioners, being officers of the AFP, are subject to military law. Pursuant to Article 1 (a) of Commonwealth Act No. 408, as amended, otherwise known as the Articles of War, the term officer is construed to refer to a commissioned officer. Article 2 provides:
Art. 2. Persons Subject to Military Law. The following persons are subject to these articles and shall be understood as included in the term any person subject to military law or persons subject to military law, whenever used in these articles:
(a) All officers and soldiers in the active service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines or of the Philippine Constabulary, all members of the reserve force, from the dates of their call to active duty and while on such active duty; all trainees undergoing military instructions; and all other persons lawfully called, drafted, or ordered into, or to duty or for training in the said service, from the dates they are required by the terms of the call, draft, or order to obey the same.
Upon the other hand, Section 1 of R.A. No. 7055 reads:
SEC. 1. Members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and other persons subject to military law, including members of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units, who commit crimes or offenses penalized under the Revised Penal Code, other special penal laws, or local government ordinances, regardless of whether or not civilians are co-accused, victims, or offended parties, which may be natural or juridical persons, shall be tried by the proper civil court, except when the offense, as determined before arraignment by the civil court, is service-connected, in which case, the offense shall be tried by court-martial, Provided, That the President of the Philippines may, in the interest of justice, order or direct at any time before arraignment that any such crimes or offenses be tried by the proper civil courts.
As used in this Section, service-connected crimes or offenses shall be limited to those defined in Articles 54 to 70, Articles 72 to 92, and Articles 95 to 97 of Commonwealth Act No. 408, as amended.
In imposing the penalty for such crimes or offenses, the court-martial may take into consideration the penalty prescribed therefor in the Revised Penal Code, other special laws, or local government ordinances.
Section 1 of R.A. No. 7055, quoted
above, is clear and unambiguous. First,
it lays down the general rule that
members of the AFP and other persons subject to military law, including members
of the Citizens Armed Forces Geographical Units, who commit crimes or offenses penalized under the
Revised Penal Code (like coup detat), other special penal laws, or
local ordinances shall be tried by the proper
civil court. Next, it provides the exception to the general rule, i.e., where
the civil court, before arraignment, has determined the offense to be service-connected, then the offending
soldier shall be tried by a court martial. Lastly, the law states an exception to the exception, i.e., where
the President of the
The second paragraph of the same provision further identifies the service-connected crimes or offenses as limited to those defined in Articles 54 to 70, Articles 72 to 92, and Articles 95 to 97 of the Articles of War. Violations of these specified Articles are triable by court martial. This delineates the jurisdiction between the civil courts and the court martial over crimes or offenses committed by military personnel.
Such delineation of jurisdiction by R.A. No. 7055 is necessary to preserve the peculiar nature of military justice system over military personnel charged with service-connected offenses. The military justice system is disciplinary in nature, aimed at achieving the highest form of discipline in order to ensure the highest degree of military efficiency. Military law is established not merely to enforce discipline in times of war, but also to preserve the tranquility and security of the State in time of peace; for there is nothing more dangerous to the public peace and safety than a licentious and undisciplined military body. The administration of military justice has been universally practiced. Since time immemorial, all the armies in almost all countries of the world look upon the power of military law and its administration as the most effective means of enforcing discipline. For this reason, the court martial has become invariably an indispensable part of any organized armed forces, it being the most potent agency in enforcing discipline both in peace and in war.
Here, petitioners are charged for violation of Article 96 (conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman) of the Articles of War before the court martial, thus:
All persons subject to military law, did on or about 27 July 2003 at Oakwood Hotel, Makati City, Metro Manila, willfully, unlawfully and feloniously violate their solemn oath as officers to defend the Constitution, the law and the duly-constituted authorities and abused their constitutional duty to protect the people and the State by, among others, attempting to oust the incumbent duly-elected and legitimate President by force and violence, seriously disturbing the peace and tranquility of the people and the nation they are sworn to protect, thereby causing dishonor and disrespect to the military profession, conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, in violation of AW 96 of the Articles of War.
CONTRARY TO LAW. (Underscoring ours)
Article 96 of the Articles of War provides:
ART. 96. Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Gentleman. Any officer, member of the Nurse Corps, cadet, flying cadet, or probationary second lieutenant, who is convicted of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman shall be dismissed from the service. (Underscoring ours)
We hold that the offense for violation of Article 96 of the Articles of War is service-connected. This is expressly provided in Section 1 (second paragraph) of R.A. No. 7055. It bears stressing that the charge against the petitioners concerns the alleged violation of their solemn oath as officers to defend the Constitution and the duly-constituted authorities. Such violation allegedly caused dishonor and disrespect to the military profession. In short, the charge has a bearing on their professional conduct or behavior as military officers. Equally indicative of the service-connected nature of the offense is the penalty prescribed for the same dismissal from the service imposable only by the military court. Such penalty is purely disciplinary in character, evidently intended to cleanse the military profession of misfits and to preserve the stringent standard of military discipline.
Obviously, there is no merit in petitioners argument that they can no longer be charged before the court martial for violation of Article 96 of the Articles of War because the same has been declared by the RTC in its Order of February 11, 2004 as not service-connected, but rather absorbed and in furtherance of the alleged crime of coup detat, hence, triable by said court (RTC). The RTC, in making such declaration, practically amended the law which expressly vests in the court martial the jurisdiction over service-connected crimes or offenses. What the law has conferred the court should not take away. It is only the Constitution or the law that bestows jurisdiction on the court, tribunal, body or officer over the subject matter or nature of an action which can do so. And it is only through a constitutional amendment or legislative enactment that such act can be done. The first and fundamental duty of the courts is merely to apply the law as they find it, not as they like it to be. Evidently, such declaration by the RTC constitutes grave abuse of discretion tantamount to lack or excess of jurisdiction and is, therefore, void.
In Navales v. Abaya., this Court, through Mr. Justice Romeo J. Callejo, Sr., held:
We agree with the respondents that the sweeping declaration made by the RTC (Branch 148) in the dispositive portion of its Order dated February 11, 2004 that all charges before the court-martial against the accused were not service-connected, but absorbed and in furtherance of the crime of coup detat, cannot be given effect. x x x, such declaration was made without or in excess of jurisdiction; hence, a nullity.
The second paragraph of the above provision (referring to Section 1 of R.A. No. 7055) explicitly specifies what are considered service-connected crimes or offenses under Commonwealth Act No. 408, as amended, also known as the Articles of War, to wit:
Articles 54 to 70:
Art. 54. Fraudulent Enlistment.
Art. 55. Officer Making Unlawful Enlistment.
Art. 56. False Muster.
Art. 57. False Returns.
Art. 58. Certain Acts to Constitute Desertion.
Art. 59. Desertion.
Art. 60. Advising or Aiding Another to Desert.
Art. 61. Entertaining a Deserter.
Art. 62. Absence Without Leave.
Art. 63. Disrespect Toward the President, Vice-President,
Congress of the
Art. 64. Disrespect Toward Superior Officer.
Art. 65. Assaulting or Willfully Disobeying Superior Officer.
Art. 66. Insubordinate Conduct Toward Non-Commissioned Officer.
Art. 67. Mutiny or Sedition.
Art. 68. Failure to Suppress Mutiny or Sedition.
Art. 69. Quarrels; Frays; Disorders.
Art. 70. Arrest or Confinement.
Articles 72 to 92:
Art. 72. Refusal to Receive and Keep Prisoners.
Art. 73. Report of Prisoners Received.
Art. 74. Releasing Prisoner Without Authority.
Art. 75. Delivery of Offenders to Civil Authorities.
Art. 76. Misbehavior Before the Enemy.
Art. 77. Subordinates Compelling Commander to Surrender.
Art. 78. Improper Use of Countersign.
Art. 79. Forcing a Safeguard.
Art. 80. Captured Property to be Secured for Public Service.
Art. 81. Dealing in Captured or Abandoned Property.
Art. 82. Relieving, Corresponding With, or Aiding the Enemy.
Art. 83. Spies.
Art. 84. Military Property.Willful or Negligent Loss, Damage
or wrongful Disposition.
Art. 85. Waste or Unlawful Disposition of Military Property
Issued to Soldiers.
Art. 86. Drunk on Duty.
Art. 87. Misbehavior of Sentinel.
Art. 88. Personal Interest in
Art. 88-A. Unlawful Influencing Action of Court.
Art. 89. Intimidation of Persons Bringing Provisions.
Art. 90. Good Order to be Maintained and Wrongs Redressed.
Art. 91. Provoking Speeches or Gestures.
Art. 92. Dueling.
Articles 95 to 97:
Art. 95. Frauds Against the Government.
Art. 96. Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and Gentleman.
Art. 97. General Article.
Further, Section 1 of Rep. Act No. 7055 vests on the military courts the jurisdiction over the foregoing offenses. x x x.
It is clear from the foregoing that Rep. Act No. 7055 did not divest the military courts of jurisdiction to try cases involving violations of Articles 54 to 70, Articles 72 to 92, and Articles 95 to 97 of the Articles of War as these are considered service-connected crimes or offenses. In fact, it mandates that these shall be tried by the court-martial.
Moreover, the observation made by Mr. Justice Antonio T. Carpio during the deliberation of this case is worth quoting, thus:
The trial court aggravated its error when it justified its ruling by holding that the charge of Conduct Unbecoming an Officer and a Gentleman is absorbed and in furtherance to the alleged crime of coup detat. Firstly, the doctrine of absorption of crimes is peculiar to criminal law and generally applies to crimes punished by the same statute, unlike here where different statutes are involved. Secondly, the doctrine applies only if the trial court has jurisdiction over both offenses. Here, Section 1 of R.A. 7055 deprives civil courts of jurisdiction over service-connected offenses, including Article 96 of the Articles of War. Thus, the doctrine of absorption of crimes is not applicable to this case.
Military law is sui generis (Calley v. Callaway, 519 F.2d 184 ), applicable only to military personnel because the military constitutes an armed organization requiring a system of discipline separate from that of civilians (see Orloff v. Willoughby, 345 U.S. 83 ). Military personnel carry high-powered arms and other lethal weapons not allowed to civilians. History, experience, and the nature of a military organization dictate that military personnel must be subjected to a separate disciplinary system not applicable to unarmed civilians or unarmed government personnel.
A civilian government employee reassigned to another place by his superior may question his reassignment by asking a temporary restraining order or injunction from a civil court. However, a soldier cannot go to a civil court and ask for a restraining or injunction if his military commander reassigns him to another area of military operations. If this is allowed, military discipline will collapse.
x x x
This Court has recognized that courts-martial are instrumentalities of the Executive to enable the President, as Commander-in-Chief, to effectively command, control, and discipline the armed forces (see Ruffy v. Chief of Staff, 75 Phil. 875 , citing Winthrops Military Law and Precedents, 2nd edition, p. 49). In short, courts-martial form part of the disciplinary system that ensures the Presidents control, and thus civilian supremacy, over the military. At the apex of this disciplinary system is the President who exercises review powers over decisions of courts-martial (citing Article 50 of the Articles of War; quoted provisions omitted).
x x x
While the Court had intervened before in courts-martial or similar proceedings, it did so sparingly and only to release a military personnel illegally detained (Ognir v. Director of Prisons, 80 Phil. 401  or to correct objectionable procedures (Yamashita v. Styer, 75 Phil. 563 ). The Court has never suppressed court-martial proceedings on the ground that the offense charged is absorbed and in furtherance of another criminal charge pending with the civil courts. The Court may now do so only if the offense charged is not one of the service-connected offenses specified in Section 1 of RA 7055. Such is not the situation in the present case.
With respect to the issue of prescription raised by petitioners in their Supplemental Petition, suffice it to say that we cannot entertain the same. The contending parties are at loggerheads as to (a) who among the petitioners were actually arraigned, and (b) the dates of their arraignment. These are matters involving questions of fact, not within our power of review, as we are not a trier of facts. In a petition for prohibition, such as the one at bar, only legal issues affecting the jurisdiction of the tribunal, board or officer involved may be resolved on the basis of the undisputed facts.
Clearly, the instant petition for prohibition must fail. The office of prohibition is to prevent the unlawful and oppressive exercise of authority and is directed against proceedings that are done without or in excess of jurisdiction, or with grave abuse of discretion, there being no appeal or other plain, speedy, and adequate remedy in the ordinary course of law. Stated differently, prohibition is the remedy to prevent inferior courts, corporations, boards, or persons from usurping or exercising a jurisdiction or power with which they have not been vested by law.
In fine, this Court holds that herein respondents have the authority in convening a court martial and in charging petitioners with violation of Article 96 of the Articles of War.
WHEREFORE, the instant petition for prohibition is DISMISSED.
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
REYNATO S. PUNO
MA. ALICIA AUSTRIA-MARTINEZ
CONCHITA CARPIO MORALES
ADOLFO S. AZCUNA
LEONARDO A. QUISUMBING
ANTONIO T. CARPIO
RENATO C. CORONA
ROMEO J. CALLEJO, SR.
DANTE O. TINGA
CANCIO C. GARCIA
ARTEMIO V. PANGANIBAN
 A group which spearheaded the Revolution of
 As defined and penalized under Article 134-A of the Revised Penal Code, as amended.
 Entitled An Act for Making Further and More Effectual Provision for the National Defense by Establishing a System of Military Justice for Persons Subject to Military Law.
 Entitled An Act Strengthening Civilian Supremacy Over The Military By Returning To The Civil Courts The Jurisdiction Over Certain Offenses Involving Members Of The Armed Forces Of The Philippines, Other Persons Subject To Military Law, And The Members Of The Philippine National Police, Repealing For The Purpose Certain Presidential Decrees.
 Rollo, pp. 176-179.
 Article 38 of the Articles of War partly provides:
Article 38. As to Time. Except for desertion or murder committed in time of war, or for mutiny, no person subject to military law shall be liable to be tried or punished by a court-martial for any crime or offense committed more than two years before the arraignment of such person: x x x.
 Par. 9, id.
 Par. 10, id. Petitioners stated, under this footnote, that
the (r)ulings before the
General Court Martial were done orally; unavailability of the TSN for the
 Gloria, PHILIPPINE MILITARY LAW Annotated, revised edition, p. 3.
 Commonwealth Act No. 408, as amended by
Republic Act No. 242 (approved on
 Arnado v.Buban, A.M. No. MTJ-04-1543,
 Resins, Inc. v. Auditor General, G.R. No. 17888,
 G.R. Nos. 162318 and 162341,
 E.g., Murder (Article 248) and Robbery (Articles 294-295) absorbed by Rebellion (Article 134) of the Revised Penal Code (People v. Hernandez, 99 Phil. 515 ; Illegal Possession of Marijuana (Section 8, Republic Act No. 6425) absorbed by Illegal Sale of Marijuana (Section 4, Republic Act No. 6425) (People v. De Jesus, 229 Phil. 518 ).
 Mafinco Trading Corp. v. Ople, No.
 Section 2, Rule 65 of the
1997 Rules of Civil Procedure, as amended; Vergara
v. Rugue, No. L-32984,
Integrated Wood Products, Inc. v. Court of Appeals, G.R. No. 98310,