Court Rejects Philippine Leader's Bid to Get Fiercest Critic Arrested

Luis Liwanag and Karl Romano
Manila and Dagupan, Philippines
181022-PH-politics-620.jpg Sen. Antonio Trillanes speaks to reporters outside his Philippine Senate office after a judge denied the justice department’s request for an arrest warrant against him, Oct. 22, 2018.

A Philippine court on Monday rejected a government-requested arrest warrant against an opposition senator who has become the most vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Regional Trial Court Judge Andres Bartolome Soriano denied the government’s petition for Sen. Antonio Trillanes’ arrest. He also junked Duterte’s claim that Trillanes never formally applied for amnesty and failed to express guilt – two elements required by law before one can receive pardon.

“The rule of law won and democracy won,” Trillanes, 47, told reporters at the Senate after the court’s ruling.

“They should be prepared now that I have been able to rest,” he said, smiling. “There is no more possibility that I will be arrested again.”

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told reporters the government would appeal.

Trillanes, a leading critic of Duterte’s drug war that has left thousands dead, was a navy officer when he led more than 300 troops in a 2003 mutiny, during which they demanded military reforms and the resignation of then-President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

The daylong siege in the country’s financial district ended swiftly and the soldiers surrendered and were jailed. Arroyo, a known ally of Duterte, had promised to look into their allegations, and her successor, Benigno Aquino III, pardoned Trillanes in 2010.

But Duterte revoked that pardon last month and ordered Trillanes’ arrest.

On Sept. 25, Trillanes turned himself in on a separate rebellion charge and a different court allowed him bail. The senator had termed his legal troubles as the death knell of democracy under Duterte, whose drug war since becoming president two years ago has been condemned internationally.

At least 4,500 suspected drug addicts and dealers have died in the anti-drug campaign, according to the national police. Authorities say those deaths took place during legitimate gunbattles with law-enforcement officers, putting the blame on unidentified vigilantes for thousands of other killings. Rights groups estimate the death toll at 12,000.

Since taking office, Duterte had been consolidating his power base by naming retired generals to his cabinet. He also challenged the military to mount a rebellion against him and has claimed that Trillanes and other political opponents had been plotting with communist rebels to oust him.

Earlier this year, Duterte cited an intelligence report of a foreign country as basis for his statement without offering any other proof.


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