The Philippine court system failed a crucial test today, and human rights may be the gravest casualty. Last night (mid-afternoon Philippines time) a court ordered the arrest of Senator Antonio Trillanes, a fierce critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and his drug war which has claimed tens of thousands of lives. Trillanes is free on bail, but believes he is likely to be jailed in an upcoming court hearing in a related case.
Trillanes is the second opposition senator to face charges. In a similar situation, Senator Leila de Lima was incarcerated a year and a half ago on unsupported drug charges, half a year after President Duterte promised to "destroy" her. The case against de Lima was brought shortly after she had a confessed former member of Duterte's "Davao Death Squad" testify in the Justice Committee, one of two former DDS members to go public. Duterte promised a year ago to also "destroy" Senator Trillanes.
The legal pretexts for the administration's action against Trillanes have drawn broad criticism in the Philippine legal and human rights communities. Trillanes was the recipient with others of an amnesty grant in 2011 by then President Benigno Aquino (the equivalent of a presidential clemency or pardon in the US). He was a leader of a famous military mutiny in which soldiers in the "Magdalo" group occupied a building to protest corruption in the Gloria Arroyo administration, and less-covered issues including illegal military attacks on Filipino Muslims.
Trillanes served seven years before the amnesty, getting elected to the Senate the first time while still jailed. Arroyo turned out to be even more corrupt than the Magdalo soldiers had claimed, and was caught engaging in election-rigging in not one but two elections, but is now Speaker of the Philippine House of Representatives.
The Duterte administration issued a proclamation three weeks ago declaring Trillanes' amnesty to be revoked -- a wholly unconstitutional move, according to most observers -- claiming that he failed to submit an application or admit guilt. Despite news footage showing him turning in the application, an affidavit by the military official administering the amnesty process attesting that there was an application, and a certificate of amnesty granted by the government, Judge Elmo Alameda insisted that because Trillanes could not find a copy of the application, he couldn't prove that he had complied with the amnesty's conditions. Alameda was similarly unmoved by the point that it was the military that was obligated to keep track of the application, not Trillanes, and that it could have been removed from the files as part of a conspiracy by the administration.
StoptheDrugWar.org condemns the Duterte administration's blatantly political attack on Senator Antonio Trillanes. We further note that the day on which the president's arrest order was initially made public, was the same day Trillanes was leading a Senate hearing on government contracts issued to a firm owned by the family of Duterte Solicitor General Jose Calida. Evidence came out demonstrating that the amnesty revocation was initiated by Calida.
We are also concerned that the amnesty revocation threat can now be held over other members of the Magdalo movement, one of whom, Rep. Gary Alejano, is a likely candidate for the Senate as part of the opposition coalition, of which the Magdalo Party is an important plank. The congressional election in the Philippines is scheduled for May 2019, which is also when Trilllanes' term in the Senate expires.
Senator Trillanes joined our March 2018 event at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs annual meeting in Vienna, where he presented administration data suggesting that extrajudicial killings in President Duterte's drug war may exceed 20,000. Perversely, the Senator observed, the administration listed these killings among its "2017 Accomplishments."
"StoptheDrugWar.org is focused on the still-unfolding human rights crisis in the Philippines, and Senator Trillanes is one of a handful of leaders willing to aggressive confront that crisis. Whether he remains free to speak and campaign, or instead joins Senator de Lima as a symbol behind bars, we will continue to support his efforts," said StoptheDrugWar.org Executive Director David Borden.
"Trillanes told us in Vienna he expected political prosecutions to increase in pace during the second half of this year," Borden continued. "We are saddened that he is personally a victim of this. But it has already further mobilized the already energized Philippine opposition to Duterte, and it will also focus even greater world attention onto Duterte's crimes and depredations."
StoptheDrugWar.org is a US-based NGO with a focus on international drug policy, and which has advocated on the Philippines human rights situation since early 2017. Our educational nonprofit DRCNet Foundation has been in Special Consultative Status with the UN Economic and Social Council since 2016.
Footage of Senator Trillanes' presentation in Vienna is online at https://stopthedrugwar.org/philippines#vienna2018.
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