Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte wants him behind bars, but Senator Antonio Trillanes is resisting arrest by taking refuge in his Senate office. In a DW interview, the senator accuses Duterte of being a dictator.
Last week, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the arrest of Senator Antonio Trillanes, a retired naval officer and one of Duterte’s fiercest critics.
Trillanes, who backs an International Criminal Court probe into Duterte’s crackdown on drug suspects, was a candidate for vice president in the 2016 elections.
In 2010, Trillanes was pardoned by then president Benigno Aquino III for his botched coup d’etat attempts to overthrow a previous government. But on September 4, Duterte revoked Trillanes’ amnesty and ordered that he be arrested and tried in a military court.
Since then, Trillanes has taken refuge in his Senate office to avoid arrest. Thousands of Trillanes’ supporters are guarding his office in Manila.
In an interview with DW, Trillanes talks about his arrest orders and the public support for him.
DW: President Duterte could have arrested you a long time ago. Why did he issue the arrest orders now?
Antonio Trillanes: Duterte wanted me killed as soon as he came to power. He ordered the Davao Death Squad to assassinate me, according to our witness, Arturo Lascanas, who is a former police officer.
The president decided to revoke my amnesty when I initiated an investigation against Solicitor General Jose Calida and the government contracts that involved him and his family-owned security firm. Duterte wanted to prevent me from going after Calida.
Duterte’s action shows that he has no respect for the democratic process. People are fed up with him.
Will the Supreme Court rule against Duterte’s revocation order?
My lawyers and some senators advised me to seek the Supreme Court’s help because they won’t be able to guarantee my safety beyond the senate premises. At the same time, if I turn myself in, then it would be synonymous to endorsing the president’s proclamation.
Some people say you would be safer in detention.
Nobody is safer under Duterte’s rule. You are not even safe inside your home. We have seen how the homes of suspected drug dealers and drug users are being raided by police. If a senator is not safe, nobody is safe in the country.
Duterte’s critics accuse him of targeting his opponents. What does the president want to achieve?
Duterte wants absolute power; that is the only way he knows how to govern. In Davao City [where Duterte was mayor], he ruled like a dictator. He doesn’t respect the legislature or the media and is averse to any criticism from the opposition.
Duterte knows that there are state institutions that can challenge his autocratic measures. He also fears accountability, as he knows that he has committed many crimes during his tenure as Davao mayor and now as president. He cannot afford not to be in power.
Some analysts say that you have emerged as a figurehead who can unite the opposition against the president. Do you agree with their assessment?
Vice President Leni Robredo remains the opposition leader. She may not be as visible or as vocal as I am, but she is quietly working for the unification of the all opposition forces. In the next few weeks, I expect her to take on a stronger stance.
Are you surprised by the public support that you’re getting?
I’m really humbled and surprised by the support. In the past when we tried to expose the administration’s wrongdoings, Duterte’s allies in the senate blocked us. The media was also intimidated, so was there no avenue to expose the president. But Duterte’s reckless statements and measures have turned people against him.
Does Duterte enjoy the Philippine military’s backing?
Duterte wants to involve the armed forces in politics. We know that the military is not happy about this. It is clear to the military that Duterte’s action against me is political. I think they hoped that the president would not use them this way.
I believe the military is united and is loyal to the constitution. Historically, the Philippine military has always sided with the people.
For how long can you avoid arrest?
I really don’t know. A lot depends on the September 13 Supreme Court hearing of my application for a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO). If I get the TRO, it will be a temporary reprieve for me and a slap in Duterte’s face. If the top court does not issue a TRO, then we will wait for the decision of the other courts on the arrest warrant.
The interview was conducted by Ana P. Santos in Manila.