Embattled Philippine Senator Antonio Trillanes released official documents Thursday to show he had received a legal amnesty for his role in past military rebellions, and vowed to “make a career” out of going after President Rodrigo Duterte’s allies long after the leader left office.
A lawyer for Trillanes, a leading critic of the Duterte administration’s deadly war on drugs, filed a petition before the Supreme Court seeking an injunction over a presidential order, which revoked his amnesty and called for the arrest of the opposition senator. The proclamation against Trillanes was unfounded, the petition charged.
“Their basis for the proclamation is a big lie,” said Trillanes, who has been holding out at the Senate building for the past two days. “This was very clear from the start. They just wanted to silence me for being one of the critics of Mr. Duterte.”
Trillanes showed copies of documents from his application for amnesty over two previous mutinies, papers that were endorsed and approved by the Defense Department in 2011. News video coverage of his application was also made available, and showed Trillanes taking an oath.
Contrary to what Duterte had claimed when he signed the order revoking the amnesty, the document clearly stated that the senator had admitted guilt and remorse for participating in the rebellions, which took place in 2003 and 2007 when he served as a navy lieutenant.
The justice department said it was only following orders by Duterte. On Thursday, Philippine justice officials did not respond immediately to BenarNews requests for comment.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, a lawyer who once expressed admiration for Trillanes as a mutinous military officer who stood his ground, on Thursday denied that the government was oppressing the senator by voiding his amnesty.
“What political oppression are they talking about? His criticism of the president has been relentless,” said Roque, who was travelling with Duterte in the Middle East.
“He is the proof that democracy is alive in the Philippines because his criticisms against the president and his family have been relentless, so his claim is nonsense.”
Last week, Duterte signed a proclamation cancelling an amnesty granted to Trillanes by his immediate processor, former president Benigno Aquino. The document, which stated that Trillanes “never expressed his guilt” for the rebellions, was only released days later.
The president’s move has unleashed a legal debate in the Philippines, with opposition legislators saying Duterte could not unilaterally invalidate an amnesty granted by a former president and approved by Congress.
Senator warns military
Trillanes, who won a Senate seat while spending time in jail over his role in the mutinies, called on his former colleagues in the army Thursday to remain apolitical, but he hinted that he retained strong support from people in the military.
“I believe the members of the armed forces, the Defense Department in particular, know the lessons in history,” Trillanes said. “They know the lessons during Martial Law and they know what is legal and illegal. But they know that Duterte won’t last long, he will be gone very soon, believe me.”
Once Duterte was no longer in power, Trillanes warned, he would pursue all of his detractors, targeting the officials who helped orchestrate this recent legal debacle.
“They should not use the law to persecute people,” Trillanes stressed. “Once Duterte is gone, I will go after them. I will make a career out of chasing them.”
Philippine Congressman Gary Alejano, an ex-captain in the Marines, cautioned the police and military from moving in to arrest the senator. He said the military no longer had jurisdiction over Trillanes because he was now a civilian.
“If indeed the military is not being politicized by the Duterte administration, then it must know that they cannot make arrests without a warrant and that they have no jurisdiction over Senator Trillanes,” said Alejano, one of Trillanes’ close allies who also took part in the rebellion.
“The AFP (Armed Forces of the Philippines) should not be used in pursuit of political ends against a personal nemesis of the president,” he said.
A history of military adventurism
Coup d’etats and rebellions are not new to the Philippines, once touted as Asia’s bastion of democracy. In 1986, millions of Filipinos rose up against dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who was chased into exile in Hawaii, where he died three years later.
He was replaced by pro-democracy icon Corazon Aquino, who shepherded the country during the difficult transition from two decades of dictatorship. She survived six attempted coups.
In 2003, Trillanes, then a young navy officer, together with some 300 junior officers and men, took over the luxurious Oakwood hotel in Manila’s Makati financial district, in a rebellion to protest alleged corruption within the ranks. It was immediately put down by then-President Gloria Arroyo, who promised to look into their allegations.
But four years later, Trillanes and other officers walked out of a Manila court hearing their case, and holed themselves up at another hotel. The siege only ended after the military drove a tank into the lobby of the building.
Trillanes and other officers who were involved in those mutinies later landed government posts or won elective posts.
Felipe Villamor in Manila contributed to this report.