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MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has decided not to seek the arrest of an opposition senator, who has taken refuge in the Senate, without a court warrant after the defiant lawmaker asked the Supreme Court to declare Duterte's order illegal.
The decision could ease a three-day standoff between Duterte and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, the volatile president's fiercest critic in Congress.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque told a news conference Friday in Jordan, where Duterte is winding up a visit, that the president made the decision "to abide with the rule of law" after a long discussion with Cabinet officials who were traveling with him. The news conference was shown live by Philippine TV networks in Manila.
"The instruction is to abide with the rule of law," Roque said. "If there is no warrant of arrest issued by any court, do not apprehend Sen. Trillanes."
Backed by dozens of supporters, Trillanes did not immediately venture out of the Senate building, where he has been marooned since Tuesday. His lawyer said the senator would make sure there is no more danger of an illegal arrest.
In a signed proclamation made public Tuesday, Duterte voided a 2011 amnesty granted to Trillanes, who once joined mutinies as a navy officer, and ordered his arrest.
Trillanes refused to leave the Senate and instead asked the Supreme Court in a petition to declare Duterte's order illegal without a court warrant, which, if upheld by the high court, could open the president to impeachment bids.
Known for his temper and outbursts against critics, Duterte has openly expressed anger against Trillanes, who has accused him of large-scale corruption and involvement in illegal drugs and extrajudicial killings in an anti-drug crackdown that has left thousands of suspects dead. Duterte has denied the allegations.
The Department of Justice said Duterte voided Trillanes's amnesty because the senator did not file a formal amnesty application and admit guilt for his role in past coup attempts.
Trillanes, however, has presented TV and newspaper reports, along with defense department documents, showing he applied for the amnesty and acknowledged his role in three military uprisings between 2003 and 2007.
Trillanes, 47, was jailed for more than seven years for involvement in the army uprisings, including a 2003 mutiny against then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when he and other young officers rigged part of a road in the Makati financial district with bombs and took over an upscale residential building.
After being amnestied under Duterte's predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, Trillanes successfully petitioned two Philippine courts to dismiss rebellion and coup cases against him, allowing him to later run for public office.
Despite many legal questions, the Department of Justice has asked the courts to issue a warrant for the senator's arrest and revive rebellion cases against him. Separately, the Department of Defense said earlier this week that it has deployed officers to the Senate to take custody of Trillanes and have him face a military court of inquiry into his role in the coup attempts. A military detention cell was being readied for him.
Duterte "has made it very clear that although a military tribunal could order his arrest, he prefers and he has ordered that authorities wait for the decision of the regional trial court," Roque said.
Since Duterte took office in 2016, another opposition senator has been jailed on illegal drugs charges, a critical Supreme Court chief justice has been ousted by fellow judges, and foreign critics, including an Australian nun, have been barred from entering the Philippines or threatened with deportation.