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Politics

Duterte moves to jail vocal critic as he steps up enemy crackdown

Senator Trillanes accuses Philippine leader of ill-gotten gains

Senator Antonio Trillanes, President Duterte's most outspoken critic, was a former navy lieutenant who led a failed coup attempt against then President Gloria Arroyo in 2003.    © Reuters

MANILA -- President Rodrigo Duterte has revoked an amnesty granted to an opposition senator and ordered his arrest, marking the latest attempt by the Philippine leader to silence critics.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes, one of the president's most outspoken critics, has accused Duterte and his family of amassing huge amounts of ill-gotten wealth. Trillanes has filed a complaint against Duterte for crimes against humanity before the International Criminal Court at The Hague over the latter's war against drugs.

Duterte announced in a pro-establishment newspaper that Trillanes' amnesty was invalid after he failed to admit guilt, a key requisite for presidential reprieves. He ordered the justice department and the military courts to revive the charges against Trillanes for his participation in failed coup attempts.

Trillanes is a former navy lieutenant who led an unsuccessful coup against then-President Gloria Arroyo in 2003. His group mounted another attempt to seize power in 2007, when they walked out of a courtroom and stormed The Peninsula Manila, a luxury hotel in the country's financial district. Arroyo is now a key Duterte ally and the speaker at the House of Representatives.

President Benigno Aquino, in 2010, granted amnesty to Trillanes and other soldiers who participated in the coup attempts. The amnesty ended nearly eight years of detention for Trillanes and allowed him back into the political scene as senator after he won a seat in 2007 while in prison.

Trillanes said Duterte's order was a clear case of political persecution.

"Mr. Duterte is a dictator. He doesn't respect institutions," Trillanes said.

If arrested, Trillanes would become the second opposition senator to be sent to jail under Duterte. In February 2017, Sen. Leila de Lima was arrested on drug conspiracy charges. De Lima, in 2016, opened a senate investigation into Duterte for ordering extrajudicial killings when he was mayor of Davao, a city in the southern Philippines.

Since taking office mid-2016, Duterte has ousted a number of critics from key positions. In May, a former chief justice who was critical of the president's war on drugs was removed by her colleagues at the Supreme Court. In late July, a senior anti-graft official was dismissed for disclosing a probe into Duterte's personal wealth.

The president's spokesperson Harry Roque said Duterte's announcement will revive all cases against Trillanes. "The past finally caught up with Sen. Trillanes. He is responsible for his current state," Roque said.

The order comes as Duterte's popularity has fallen to its lowest level since he assumed office, in large part due to stubbornly high inflation. At the end of the first half of this year, Duterte's net satisfaction score had fallen to a "good" +45 from a "very good" +64 in June 2016.

Renato de Castro, a political science professor at De La Salle University, said Duterte has had enough of Trillanes.

"He's tired of the attacks and tirades of Sen. Trillanes. It's just to keep him quiet," De Castro said.

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