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The Philippines

Senator Antonio Trillanes, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s fiercest critic, arrested

Senator Antonio Trillanes called President Duterte’s move a blow to democracy

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2018, 3:58pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 25 September, 2018, 10:30pm

A Philippine lawmaker fiercely critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war was arrested on Tuesday on previously dismissed charges, a move condemned by watchdogs as persecution of the government’s opponents.

Senator Antonio Trillanes was taken into custody and then posted bail shortly after a court-issued warrant forced him from the Senate building, where he has holed up for weeks to avoid arrest.

Trillanes is the second senator critical of Duterte’s drug war to be detained. Leila de Lima has been behind bars since February 2017 on charges she says were concocted to silence her.

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The order for Trillanes’ arrest stems from Duterte voiding earlier this month an amnesty granted eight years ago to the senator, an ex-navy officer, for his role in two coup attempts in the mid-2000s.

“They twisted the law so our democracy and institutions failed,” Trillanes told reporters. “This [case] has nothing to do with anything except for the vengeance of Duterte and his underlings.

“This is a debacle and a defeat of democracy.”

Duterte issued a decree earlier this month ordering Trillanes’ arrest on allegations he did not complete the requirements of filing an official application for amnesty and admitting guilt.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said it was time for Trillanes to stop grandstanding.

“The court has spoken,” he said in a statement. “Let us stop the drama by press conference and allow the legal process to take its course.”

The case has prompted concern in the Philippines where critics have questioned whether presidents have the power to undo amnesties, a repeatedly used tool in a nation plagued by insurgencies and military rebellion.

This [case] has nothing to do with anything except for the vengeance of Duterte and his underlings
Antonio Trillanes

“The arrest ... is part of the persecution of critics of the Duterte administration, the latest in the relentless campaign to silence those who dared to challenge the president’s murderous ‘drug war’,” said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch Philippines.

Bigger legal trouble could still await Trillanes because he could be arrested on another charge, stemming from a separate coup attempt, that does not have the possibility of bail.

The Philippines’ creaking legal system is notoriously slow and defendants can remain behind bars for years before they get their day in court.

Along with De Lima, Trillanes is Duterte’s loudest critic said last year: “This man is a sociopath and he has the mindset of a hitman.”

Trillanes last year appealed to the International Criminal Court to investigate killings in Duterte’s war on drugs and had repeatedly accused the president of being a mass murderer and holding secret bank accounts.

Last year, Trillanes also had the president’s eldest son Paolo brought before a Senate inquiry to face allegations he was involved in drug trafficking, which the younger Duterte denied.

Trillanes had faced rebellion and coup d’etat charges for being among military officers who rose up against then president Gloria Arroyo over alleged corruption and mismanagement.

He led scores of junior officers in taking over part of a main district of Manila in 2003 and seized a posh Manila hotel in 2007 along with several armed followers as they demanded Arroyo’s resignation.

On Tuesday, a poll showed Duterte suffered the biggest ratings slump of his presidency in the third quarter, amid signs of public unease about rising inflation and the cost of staple foodgrain rice.

Duterte’s critics have accused him of trying to distract the public and prioritising a settling of scores rather than tackling problems like inflation, which his office rejects.

Additional reporting by Reuters