Duterte orders the arrest of Antonio Trillanes

The senator has repeatedly accused the president of asset concealment and denounced his war on drugs. He is the second Filipino senator to have an arrest warrant issued against him; the first one was for Leila de Lima. Redemptorist priest says “death squads” are after him.

Manila (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte (picture 1) has ordered the arrest of Senator Antonio Trillanes (picture 2), one of his main political opponents, over failed coups more than a decade ago.

In what many observers consider the president's latest move to silence dissidents, Duterte signed an executive order dated 31 August and published in today’s Manila Times that revokes an amnesty granted to Trillanes for his role in two coup attempts in 2003 and 2007 against then President Gloria Arroyo.

Since Duterte came to power, Mr Trillanes has repeatedly accused the president of assets concealment and backed complaints against the president filed before the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the murder of thousands of people in connection with his war on drugs.

In his order, the president directs the military and the police “to employ all lawful means to apprehend” the coup leader “so that he can be recommitted to the detention facility where he had been incarcerated for him to stand trial for the crimes he is charged with.”

“It’s a clear case of political persecution”, Trillanes told a TV station. After “This incident, [it] should be clear to everyone that Mr Duterte is a dictator,” he added. “He does not respect institutions.”

The senator, who told reporters on Tuesday that amnesty is an act of Congress that cannot be revoked through executive order, becomes the second lawmaker and fierce Duterte critic to face arrest. Senator Leila de Lima was detained in February 2017 on drug-trafficking charges.

Civil society and human rights groups have complained for months about the president’s intimidation tactics against his critics.

The Catholic Church, which leads more than 83 million Filipinos, has been in the president’s crosshair. On several occasions, members of the clergy and nuns have been the object of intimidation, the latest example being that of Fr Amado Picardal (picture 3).

A Redemptorist priest and human rights activist, the clergyman is one of the people who spoke out against the Davao death squads, groups of policemen and vigilantes responsible for extrajudicial killings, during Duterte’s stint (1988-1998, 2001- 2010, 2013-2016) as mayor of the southern Filipino city.

The priest, who says he "almost" became the victim of one of the “death squads”, has been in hiding at a secret location since mid-August, when staff at the Redemptorist monastery in Cebu reported seeing several “suspicious” individuals on motorcycles loitering nearby.

What is more, Fr Picardal reports that since last year, he has been receiving information that the infamous death squad was about to hit priests and that he was at the top of their list. In fact, three priests have been killed by unknown gunmen since the start of 2018.

“They are determined to complete their ‘project’ [of killing me]. Otherwise, they won’t get paid,” noted the clergyman, adding that a source told him that Malacañang (the presidential palace) ordered his assassination.