MANILA, Philippines – The largest group of lawyers in the Philippines asked the country's courts Monday to resist "creeping incursions" on its independence and warned of judicial "chaos" after the president voided an amnesty granted to an opposition senator and ordered his arrest.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines expressed alarm on the "overt audacity to publicly arrest and incarcerate" Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV for offenses that have been abolished by a 2011 amnesty approved by President Rodrigo Duterte's predecessor and Congress and which led to the dismissal of criminal proceedings against the senator.
Duterte's fiercest critic in Congress, Trillanes has been marooned in the Senate for nearly a week to avoid what he regarded as an illegal arrest after the president signed a proclamation that voided his amnesty as a former navy officer who joined past mutinies. Duterte also asked the Department of Justice and the military to revive criminal proceedings against him, moves that Trillanes and some legal experts say violate the constitution.
Duterte has been highly sensitive to criticism, especially over his anti-drug crackdown that has left thousands of mostly poor drug suspects dead since he took office in mid-2016. Trillanes has long been in the crosshairs of the president, whom he has also accused of large-scale corruption and involvement in illegal drugs, allegations the volatile leader denies.
In his proclamation, Duterte declared Trillanes' amnesty void because the senator allegedly failed to file a formal amnesty proclamation and acknowledge guilt for involvement in failed coup attempts years ago. The defiant senator has shown news reports and defense department documents to deny Duterte's claims and asked the Supreme Court to declare Duterte's moves illegal.
Amid those legal questions, the Department of Justice has asked two courts that previously dismissed rebellion and coup charges against Trillanes after his amnesty to issue warrants for the senator's arrest and resume criminal proceedings against him. The department and government lawyers argued that the voiding of the amnesty, which served as the basis of the dismissal of the senator's cases, has revived those cases.
The lawyers' group, however, argued that the legal move against Trillanes "runs roughshod over the constitutional guarantee against double jeopardy" or holding a person to answer twice for the same offense. It "decries the potential mischief" where the judiciary is subjected to an "anomalous situation," where one court would uphold the amnesty and another could rule to void it.
"The chaos that may result" from the government moves against Trillanes "undermines our systems that make the orderly administration of justice possible," the group said in a statement signed by its president, Abdiel Fajardo.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque asked the lawyers' group to "stop too much talk" and to bring their issues to court and not the media.
Although Duterte could order the military to arrest Trillanes for him to face a military court of inquiry into his past coup involvement, the president has decided to wait for civilian courts to rule whether the senator could be arrested to face trial. Trillanes, however, has refused to believe Duterte and refused to leave the Senate, where the media has covered his daily news conferences.