Trillanes Gets Reprieve, for Now

Update: Senator Trillanes has had a reprieve, for at least a week.

Senator Antonio Trillanes IV of the Philippines, a high-profile critic of Rodrigo Duterte's murderous drug war, is likely to be jailed tomorrow morning, according to unconfirmed reports we've received. For those of watching this from the US, that means tonight. If you've followed this, you probably know that two days ago the Senator was arrested on a related charge, but released on bail. Unfortunately the charge that a second court is ruling on is not normally bailable, though one never knows what a judge's ruling will say until one sees it.

speaker meeting before our March UN event (photo by Joey Tranchina)
I spent two days with Senator Trillanes and staff members last March, when he keynoted our side event at the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs meeting in Vienna. Trillanes highlighted data released by the Duterte administration suggesting that the number of extrajudicial killings in Duterte's drug war may be as high as 20,000. Perversely, the administration included the killings in its "2017 Accomplishments" report, he pointed out, asking "what kind of president" would consider the killing of its own people to be accomplishment. By today, numbers over 25,000 are being floated, and human rights organizations are confident there have been at least 12,000 extrajudicial drug war killings in Duterte's first two years as president. (Follow the link above for more links to all this info.)

As far as the current cases against Senator Trillanes, an online news search on his name turns up countless articles for those who want more background. We have published two statements on the subject as well, on September 4th and yesterday. Our statement was featured in articles published by two news outlets in the Philippines as a voice of the international community, GMA News and Rappler.

Other than that, suffice it to say for now that the legal reasoning of both the Duterte administration and the judges enabling them seems pretty far-fetched and strained. I'm not a legal scholar, and of course I'm not neutral in this. But it's clear from the public discussion, on news and social media, that most legal thinkers in the Philippines feel the same way. The attack on Trillanes is just the latest in a series of moves against critics of the president. These include:

  • the jailing of Senator Leila de Lima two and a half years ago on unsupported drug charges;
  • the removal of the the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court by a narrow majority of her colleagues;
  • attacks on Vice President Robredo for a video she made criticizing the extrajudicial drug war killings (for our 2017 UN side event), leading to a vigorous though unsuccessful campaign to impeach her;
  • a pending case against the last outspoken opposition Senator in the Philippines, Risa Hontiveros, for providing protection to teenagers who had witnessed the murder of a friend by Philippine National Police in a widely-publicized case (they're claiming that constituted kidnapping of the teens);

and the list goes on.

We got involved in the Philippines situation, as a US-based drug policy NGO, because the bulk of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines today are in the drug war, and because we've had an advocacy focus on foreign policy the last few years. Indeed, the drug war killings have spread now to Indonesia and Bangladesh, with high-ranking officials in Malaysia and Turkey also calling for killings or other extrajudicial violence by drug enforcers. And President Trump himself, not only has praised Duterte, but has specifically praised Duterte's drug war, and has done so twice.

I hope, if you haven't already, that you'll take a few minutes to read about our work in this area. We have bigger plans in the works, that I hope to be able to write about here in the near future -- I had the honor of conversing with Senator Trillanes himself about them last Sunday, just hours before his first arrest was announced. If this work seems important to you, please consider making a donation to support it. One other small thing you can do, if you're a US voter, is write to Congress supporting current bipartisan legislation to place human rights conditions on some aid to the Philippines.

Thank you for reading this far, and please stay tuned and be ready to raise your voice in this -- a devolution into global barbarism will affect us here -- the time to take a stand is now.

Permission to Reprint: This article is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license.
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