MANILA, Philippines – Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has voided an amnesty given to a former rebel military officer and ordered the arrest of the man who as a senator has been one of the controversial leader's fiercest critics.
Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV spoke Tuesday in the Senate to condemn Duterte's move against him as illegal and draconian but added he won't resist arrest. After being advised that Senate leaders won't allow his arrest in the building, Trillanes said he would heed their advice and stay within the Senate in a looming standoff.
"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 democracy.
Some opposition politicians started trooping to the Senate to show support to Trillanes, a 47-year-old former navy officer, who had been detained for several years before his election to the Senate for his involvement in at least three military uprisings from 2003 to 2007 to protest official corruption.
Trillanes received an amnesty during the time of Duterte's predecessor, President Benigno Aquino III. Several young military officers who were detained for joining the failed coup attempts and uprisings against the administration of Aquino's predecessor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, benefited under the amnesty program, but only Trillanes' amnesty has been voided so far.
Trillanes said his lawyers would file petitions to the Supreme Court "to resolve this madness of Duterte" and the government's solicitor-general and fight what he said amounted to a warrantless arrest.
"They're bending the law to be able to do their political objective, which is to persecute the political opposition," Trillanes said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told a separate news conference that Duterte signed a proclamation last week voiding the 2011 amnesty given to Trillanes because the senator failed to comply with all the amnesty requirements, including a clear admission of his involvement in past coup attempts.
Law enforcers can comply with Duterte's order to arrest Trillanes anytime because the senator cannot invoke his immunity from such arrests because the crimes he supposedly committed, including rebellion, were serious and are punishable by life imprisonment.
Opposition Sen. Franklin Drilon said all rebellion and coup-related cases against Trillanes were dismissed by a court after he was amnestied. Duterte's administration could not renew those cases against the senator because that would amount to a "double jeopardy" that's forbidden under Philippine law.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who is accompanying Duterte in a visit to Israel, denied that the move against Trillanes was political persecution, saying the government was just enforcing the law. He said the government would exercise maximum tolerance in case protests erupt.
Duterte has openly expressed his anger against Trillanes, who has accused him of large-scale corruption and involvement in illegal drugs, allegations the volatile president has repeatedly denied. He has been hyper-sensitive to criticism, especially concerning his deadly crackdown on illegal drugs, and once told President Barack Obama to "go to hell" after Obama raised concerns over the drug killings.
Aside from Trillanes, a fellow opposition senator, Leila de Lima, has been detained after being accused by Duterte of involvement in illegal drugs, a crime she has vehemently denied. De Lima, a former human rights commission chief, investigated allegations of Duterte's links to extrajudicial killings of drug suspects when Duterte was still mayor of southern Davao city.
Duterte, now 73, said those past investigations did not turn up any evidence against him. De Lima and other former human rights officials said witnesses were terrified of testifying against Duterte in Davao because of the many killings of drug suspects when Duterte served for years as Davao's mayor.
Another Duterte critic, Maria Lourdes Sereno, was ousted by fellow magistrates in the Supreme Court in May after the government alleged that her appointment by Duterte's predecessor was legally flawed and petitioned her removal in an unprecedented move that Sereno called political persecution.