Philippine senator critical of Duterte arrested

MANILA (AFP) – A Philippine lawmaker fiercely critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war was arrested yesterday on previously dismissed charges, a move condemned by watchdogs as persecution of the government’s opponents.

Senator Antonio Trillanes was taken into custody and then posted bail shortly after a court-issued warrant forced him from the Senate building, where he has holed up for weeks to avoid arrest.

Trillanes is the second senator critical of Duterte’s drug war to be detained. Leila de Lima has been behind bars since February 2017 on charges she says were concocted to silence her.

The order for Trillanes’ arrest stems from Duterte voiding earlier this month an amnesty granted eight years ago to the senator, an ex-navy officer, for his role in two coup attempts in the mid-2000s.

“They twisted the law so our democracy and institutions failed,” Trillanes told reporters. “This (case) has nothing to do with anything except for the vengeance of Duterte and his underlings.”

Duterte issued a decree earlier this month ordering Trillanes’ arrest on allegations he did not complete the requirements of filing an official application for amnesty and admitting guilt. The case has prompted concern in the Philippines where critics have questioned whether presidents have the power to undo amnesties, a repeatedly used tool in a nation plagued by insurgencies and military rebellion.

“The arrest… is part of the persecution of critics of the Duterte administration, the latest in the relentless campaign to silence those who dared to challenge the president’s murderous ‘drug war’,” said Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch Philippines.

Bigger legal trouble could still await Trillanes because he could be arrested on another charge, stemming from a separate coup attempt, that does not have the possibility of bail.

The Philippines’ creaking legal system is notoriously slow and defendants can remain behind bars for years before they get their day in court.

Philippines senator Antonio Trillanes (L) leaves a police station after being arrested in Manila. – AFP