Philippine Sen. Antonio Trillanes, a top critic of the government’s drug war, remained holed up at the Senate on Wednesday as he defied an arrest order following President Rodrigo Duterte’s revocation of an amnesty that shielded the lawmaker over his past role in military rebellions.
The senator from the political opposition said his legal aides had advised him to stay at the Senate building while they filed papers contesting Duterte’s order, which was made public a day earlier.
“It was a long night for us last night,” Trillanes told reporters, adding that his lawyers would answer the president’s allegations at the Supreme Court. “What was evident, firstly, was that the basis of the presidential declaration of Duterte is one big error and a lie.”
Duterte said he was revoking the amnesty granted to Trillanes allegedly because the senator did not comply with requirements set out by the law.
The president also ordered the Justice Department and military to proceed with court martial proceedings against Trillanes, a former Navy lieutenant who was part of a group of junior military officers who mounted two rebellions, one in 2003 and another in 2007.
To prove his point Trillanes showed a copy of his application for amnesty as well as a video of news coverage of the day he delivered his documents in person to the Defense Department and military headquarters.
“Their statement that I did not apply for amnesty personally is trash. You were witness to all of that,” Trillanes said. “It was even recorded by the media that I admitted guilt. That was the requirement of the Aquino administration before I was approved to be given amnesty.”
He was referring to former president Benigno Aquino III, the immediate leader of the Southeast Asian country before Duterte took power in 2016 and launched a drug war that has left thousands of suspects dead without the benefit of a trial.
Since Trillanes has holed himself up in the Senate building, throngs of allies have been flocking to the chamber to offer their support to what observers have described as politically motivated maneuverings by the president, who has been angered by the former Navy officer’s stinging opposition to his administration’s crackdown on illegal drugs.
Duterte’s order has provoked a legal debate, with some legislators questioning his right to invalidate an amnesty granted by a former leader and approved by Congress.
The justice department, however, said it stood by the order because the crimes Trillanes was accused of were punishable by life imprisonment.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, speaking from Israel where he was accompanying Duterte on an official trip, said the executive office would not change its mind, and he advised Trillanes to go to the courts. He also did not rule out the possibility of police storming the Senate to carry out the arrest.
“There is no hindrance against the police to enter the Senate and arrest Senator Trillanes for as long as there is a warrant of arrest against him,” Roque said.
He argued that members of Congress only enjoyed immunity from arrest, if it involved alleged crimes punishable by up to six years, but not for serious violations such as plotting a coup d’etat that are punishable by life imprisonment.
In 2003, Trillanes and about 300 other junior military officers and men took over the Oakwood Hotel in Manila’s Makati financial district. They said it was a rebellion to protest massive corruption within the armed forces. They surrendered quickly after then-President Gloria Arroyo vowed to investigate their claims.
But four years later, while being tried for his role in the rebellion, Trillanes and some of the other accused military officers walked out of court and occupied another hotel, also in Makati. They called for Arroyo’s ouster, but the rebellion was quickly quashed after the army drove an armored personnel carrier into the hotel lobby.
Trillanes later ran for a Senate seat while in jail, and won.
Now a senator, Trillanes has been at the forefront of opposition questioning Duterte’s drug war. He was instrumental for providing security to two alleged members of Duterte’s “death squad,” who later filed against a case against the president before the International Criminal Court.
A fellow senator, Leila de Lima, has been in jail since last year, accused by Duterte of profiting from incarcerated drug lords when she served as the justice secretary. She has denied the charge.
On Wednesday, de Lima branded the amnesty revocation against Trillanes as baseless, arguing that Duterte alone could not undo an act that was jointly approved by both Congressmen and Senators.
“If there is zero basis in fact and in law to revoke Senator Sonny’s amnesty, then, why did Duterte issue this proclamation?,” de Lima said in a statement issued from detention, referring to Trillanes by his nickname.
“It was simply a political move to try and silence Senator Trillanes. Another palpable case of political persecution,” she stressed.
Among those politicians speaking out on the side of Trillanes was Senate President Vicente Sotto, an ally of Duterte, who said lawmakers were drafting rules to regulate the “flow of the entry” of officers in the Senate.
“We informed the palace that the rules of the Senate, and the tradition of the Senate is followed by the Senate president,” he said Wednesday.
Meanwhile, opposition members in the House of Representatives filed a resolution denouncing the “baseless, unlawful and improvident revocation” of Trillanes’ amnesty and calling on the government to immediately cease from executing the arrest order against him.