Philippines president Rodrigo Duterte has faced a rare pushback from institutions and the military over orders to arrest a key critic who has been hiding out in the country’s senate building for almost two weeks in order to avoid arrest.
Antonio Trillanes, who remains cooped up in Manila for an 11th day, welcomed actions by the senate leadership, the military, and the courts which he said “forced Duterte to stand down” and wait for the courts to decide the legality of his arrest orders.
“Duterte overreached and miscalculated. He wanted to push the boundaries of his executive power but the brazenness of the manner in which he did it, forced the institutions to push back. Duterte was forced to stand down, at least, at the moment,” Trillanes said on Friday.
A political firestorm was triggered by Duterte’s attempt to use the military to enforce a warrantless arrest against a critic, triggering memories of martial law in the 1970s when the military provided the backbone for the dictatorship of the late Ferdinand Marcos.
Duterte tried but failed to make the military detain Trillanes and re-open court martial proceedings on cases including a siege in 2007 when Trillanes led soldiers in occupying luxury hotels to call out corruption in the military and the government of the then president, Gloria Arroyo.
Duterte revoked the amnesty on grounds that Trillanes did not file an official amnesty application form and failed to express guilt over the rebellions. Documents showed he did both.
“The fact that senator Trillanes has not been arrested is a victory for the rule of law and due process. We must however remain vigilant,” said senator Francis Pangilinan, president of the opposition Liberal party.
Military historian Jose Antonio Custodio said the military initially appeared bent on arresting Trillanes but “recalibrated” its moves after widespread criticisms.
“It would have been a larger crisis if the military arrested senator Trillanes, a very bad precedent. It would considerably shrink the democratic space that we have in this country,” said Custodio, citing Duterte’s grip over the police, which implements Duterte’s bloody campaign against illegal drugs.
The opposition has repeatedly called on the military to disobey illegal orders. “What is clear is the AFP is sensitive to backlash and it is a good thing,” said Custodio.
The military stepped back when senate leadership gave Trillanes refuge and stood its ground against arrests without a court warrant, a protocol the legislative chamber has followed for at least four senators who have been the subject of arrest orders in the last five years.
The move angered Duterte, who dared the the military on 11 September to join Trillanes in a mutiny against him.
“I have stated my clear stand on the matter. If the [armed forces] thinks I am not competent, that I am not qualified to be sitting here – I discussed this with them in a command conference – it’s up to you. If you want another president, fine,” Duterte said.
The threat of arrest of Trillanes remains but the two courts deferred actions on government petitions, allowing him at least 10 more days to allow both camps to argue their cases. “I expect the lower courts to do the right thing,” said Trillanes.
Trillanes said he will continue to take refuge in the Senate. “I was advised by my lawyers to just wait for the final resolution of the courts to declare the amnesty revocation as illegal,” Trillanes said.