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The Philippines

Duterte orders arrest of Philippine Senator Antonio Trillanes, an outspoken critic

Trillanes has repeatedly accused Duterte of asset concealment and backs complaints lodged with the International Criminal Court over the alleged murders of criminals and drug dealers

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 12:56pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 04 September, 2018, 9:23pm

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday revoked amnesty given to an opposition senator involved in a failed coup 15 years ago and ordered his arrest, in what would be the second detainment of a senator critical of the president.

Senator Antonio Trillanes, Duterte’s most vocal opponent, has repeatedly accused the president of asset concealment and backs complaints lodged with the International Criminal Court (ICC) seeking his indictment over the alleged murders of thousands of criminals and drug dealers.

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Trillanes condemned Duterte’s move as illegal and draconian but added that he would not resist arrest. After being advised that Senate leaders would not allow his arrest in the Senate, Trillanes said he would heed their advice and stay within the building in a looming stand-off.

“We’re living basically in a de facto martial law environment of the ‘70s kind,” Trillanes told a throng of journalists and followers, referring to the martial law declared by dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1972, which is regarded as a dark chapter in Philippine history.

Some opposition politicians visited the Senate to show support for Trillanes, a 47-year-old former navy officer who was detained for several years before his election to the Senate for involvement in at least three military uprisings from 2003 to 2007 to protest official corruption.

An executive order printed in the pro-Duterte The Manila Times newspaper said amnesty given in 2010 to the former military serviceman was voided because he had not met the minimum requirements to receive it, including admitting his guilt.

The order instructed the justice department and armed forces to pursue criminal and administrative cases against Trillanes, while police and the military were ordered to arrest him and put him in detention to face trial.

Trillanes called it “a stupid executive order” and said he would not resist arrest or try to escape.

“It’s a clear case of political persecution,” he said.

If Trillanes is arrested, he would be the second member of the 24-seat Senate to be detained under Duterte, joining Leila De Lima, a former justice secretary held for 18 months after being accused of facilitating drugs deals in national jails.

Both are critical of Duterte and his war on drugs and have led Senate inquiries into his role in alleged executions of criminals by police, both while president and when mayor of southern Davao City. Duterte denies wrongdoing.

The ICC in February started a preliminary examination into a complaint against the president, which accuses him of crimes against humanity.

Trillanes received an amnesty under Duterte’s predecessor, President Benigno Aquino, for involvement in a failed 2003 coup and mutiny in 2007.

Both incidents were against then-president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, an ally of Duterte who in July became speaker of the lower house.

Several young military officers who were detained for joining failed coup attempts and uprisings against Arroyo were granted amnesties, but only Trillanes’ has been voided so far.

“This incident, should be clear to everyone that Mr. Duterte is a dictator,” Trillanes said. “He does not respect institutions. That is why we’re like this: ordinary people are killed and critics are jailed.”

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When asked about arresting Trillanes, police spokesman Benigno Durana said any order given by judicial authorities would be complied with.

Prominent Malaysian politician Anwar Ibrahim, who delivered a speech at a business forum in Manila, said he was unaware of Trillanes’ case when he was asked for a reaction at a news conference. But Anwar added that he would “certainly want” Duterte “to continue to ensure that there is a vibrant democracy and respect for the rule of law in the Philippines”.

“My consistent view is that you cannot abuse power to victimise the opposition or dissidents,” said Anwar, a former Malaysian deputy prime minister who spent years in jail after being convicted on sodomy and corruption charges that he says were politically motivated.

Duterte is currently on an official visit to Israel. He received a warm welcome from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday, but dozens of Israelis on Tuesday protested a meeting between Duterte and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin.

The demonstrators gathered outside the president’s residence before Duterte’s arrival. Waving Israeli flags and blowing whistles, they chanted “shame, shame, shame. We will not be silent and we will not agree to the selling of weapons.”

Israel has sold assault rifles to the Philippines national police force in the past and a major arms sale is reportedly on the agenda.

At the meeting, Rivlin gave a brief lecture on Hitler to Duterte, after the Philippine leader’s 2016 remarks comparing himself to the Nazi dictator who carried out the Holocaust.

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“Hitler was actually representing the devil himself,” Rivlin said. “He was the devil on earth.”

He went on to say that Duterte’s visit to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial on Monday must have illustrated to him the sensitivity surrounding any reference to Adolf Hitler.

Duterte appeared to be listening attentively during Rivlin’s brief comments. He later spoke about trade and cooperation with Israel.

The controversial Philippine president spoke of Hitler in 2016 when talking about his violent drug crackdown that has killed thousands.

“Hitler massacred three million Jews. Now there are three million drug addicts (in the Philippines). I’d be happy to slaughter them,” Duterte said then.

Historians say six million Jews died in the Holocaust.

Duterte later apologised and said the comments were aimed at critics who had likened him to the Nazi leader.

Reporting by Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse