Manila: A Philippine lawmaker fiercely critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war was arrested Tuesday on charges for which he had been granted amnesty, a move condemned by watchdogs as persecution of the government’s opponents.
Senator Antonio Trillanes was taken into custody and then posted bail in Manila shortly after a court-issued warrant forced him from the Senate building, where he has been 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 which she says were concocted to silence her.
Duterte earlier this month voided an amnesty granted eight years ago to the senator, a former 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.”
Duterte issued a decree earlier this month ordering Trillanes’ arrest on the grounds that he had not completed the requirements of filing an official application for amnesty and admitting guilt.
The case has prompted concern in the Philippines. Critics have questioned whether presidents have the power to undo amnesties, a repeatedly used tool in a nation plagued by insurgencies and military rebellions.
– ‘Hitman mindset’ –
“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 await Trillanes because the government is still seeking his arrest on another charge, stemming from a separate coup attempt, which does not carry bail.
The Philippines’ creaking legal system is notoriously slow and defendants can remain behind bars for years before they get their day in court.
After being released on Tuesday Trillanes returned to the safe haven of the Senate, where lawmakers have a certain amount of protection against arrest.
Along with De Lima, Trillanes is Duterte’s loudest critic, telling AFP 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 has 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 that 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 Manila’s Makati business district in 2003 and seizing a luxury Manila hotel in 2007 along with several armed followers as they demanded Arroyo’s resignation.