Duterte Orders Arrest of Philippine Critic Over 2003 Mutiny

(Bloomberg) -- Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the arrest of one of his top critics over a failed mutiny more than a decade ago, in what observers see as his latest move to silence political opponents.

In a proclamation dated Aug. 31 that was published in the Manila Times’ classifieds Tuesday, Duterte revoked an amnesty granted to Senator Antonio Trillanes for 2003 and 2007 coup attempts against former leader Gloria Arroyo. The order said the military and police should “employ all lawful means” to apprehend the former naval officer so he can be detained and stand trial.

Duterte Orders Arrest of Philippine Critic Over 2003 Mutiny

Duterte is currently traveling in Israel and Jordan. In a briefing live-streamed from Jerusalem, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the amnesty was only granted because of Trillanes’ close ties to Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino. Roque said the decision was “based on laws and facts.”

Trillanes told reporters on Tuesday that amnesty is an act of Congress that can’t be revoked through executive order.

“This is a clear case of political persecution,” he said in a televised briefing. “It should be clear to everyone that Mr. Duterte is a dictator. He doesn’t respect the institutions.”

Trillanes becomes the second senator and fierce Duterte critic to face arrest after Senator Leila de Lima was detained in February 2017 on drug-trafficking charges, which she has denied. Days before the May 2016 election, Trillanes filed a plunder complaint against Duterte, who was then Davao City mayor.

Coup Attempts

Trillanes tried twice but failed to unseat Arroyo, who is now speaker of the House of Representatives and a Duterte ally. In July 2003, Trillanes led more than 300 junior military officers in taking over a hotel in Manila’s business district, but surrendered later that day. In 2007, he tried a second coup attempt by seizing another luxury hotel district but it was similarly quashed by the armed forces.

Trillanes’ amnesty was granted in 2011 by Duterte’s predecessor Benigno Aquino, leading to his release from detention. He won a seat in the Senate in 2007 while campaigning from detention, and was re-elected in 2013.

Duterte’s order said the amnesty was revoked because he didn’t file an application for pardon and never expressed guilt for the crimes committed, as required by law. Trillanes on Tuesday denied that he violated any terms of the amnesty.

“This is a blatant attack on the critical and political opposition,” said Antonio La Viña, a professor at Ateneo de Manila University.

Trillanes’ amnesty was void from the start and he may be arrested anytime, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a televised briefing on Tuesday, adding that Trillanes should ask Duterte if he wanted clemency.

Duterte said a year ago that he would go after Trillanes, claiming that the lawmaker was bent on destroying him. “I will destroy him or he will destroy me. That’s the way it goes,” Duterte said Sept. 9 after Trillanes alleged that Duterte’s son Paolo was involved in drug smuggling.

Trillanes said he would ask the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of Duterte’s order, and will remain within the Senate premises, where he can’t be arrested, until the issue is resolved.

Duterte last month named a new Supreme Court chief justice three months after his allies ousted former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, another vocal critic of his drug war, on the grounds that her appointment was illegal.

“We are living in a de facto martial law environment,” Trillanes said on Tuesday, adding that Duterte’s order come without a valid arrest warrant. “Mr. Duterte, someday, there will a reckoning for you."

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