Philippine leader Rodrigo Duterte’s fiercest critic in Congress has been arrested after the president revoked his 2011 amnesty for a failed coup attempt and revived rebellion charges against him.
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV walked out of the Senate, where he has taken refuge for weeks, and was taken by police to their headquarters in Makati city, where his fingerprints and mugshot were taken.
After being booked by police, he was escorted to a nearby court and posted bail, trailed by a host of journalists.
“Democracy lost today,” he told reporters shortly before his arrest. “Darkness and evil prevailed in our country. Whatever happens in the future will be in the hands of the Filipino people.”
Known for outbursts against his critics, Mr Duterte has long expressed anger against Mr Trillanes, who has accused him of large-scale corruption, involvement in illegal drugs and extrajudicial killings in an anti-drug crackdown that has left thousands of suspects dead since he took office in 2016.
The president has denied the allegations.
Mr Trillanes, a former navy officer, was jailed for more than seven years for involvement in at least three army uprisings, including a 2003 mutiny against then president Gloria Macapagal Arroyo when he and other young officers rigged part of a road in the Makati financial district with bombs and took over an upscale residential building.
After being given amnesty under Mr Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, Mr Trillanes successfully petitioned two Philippine courts to dismiss rebellion and coup cases, allowing him to later run for public office.
Mr Duterte said he voided Mr Trillanes’ amnesty last month because the senator had failed to file a formal amnesty request and acknowledge guilt.
The senator has strongly denied the president’s claims and has provided news reports and defence department documents to counter them.
The Department of Justice asked two courts to issue warrants for Mr Trillanes’s arrest and resume criminal proceedings against him. One of the courts issued the arrest warrant on Tuesday.
Aside from the rebellion and coup-related charges in the two courts, Mr Duterte has also ordered the military to resume an inquiry into the senator’s role in the mutinies.
Legal experts and the Integrated Bar of the Philippines, the country’s largest lawyers’ group, have expressed alarm over the legal moves against Mr Trillanes for offences that were cancelled by the 2011 amnesty.
The lawyers’ group said the move “runs roughshod over the constitutional guarantee against double jeopardy” – holding a person to answer twice for the same offence.
The president has also accused Mr Trillanes, without offering evidence, of plotting with other opposition politicians, including the Liberal Party and leftist groups, to oust him.
Mr Trillanes and opposition groups have dismissed the claim as a lie and asked Mr Duterte to focus instead on addressing poverty, inflation, rice shortages, traffic jams and a decline in the value of the peso currency.
Human Rights Watch said Mr Trillanes’s arrest “is part of the persecution of critics of the Duterte administration, the latest in the relentless campaign to silence those who dared to challenge the president’s murderous ‘drug war’”.
Under Mr Duterte, another opposition senator has been jailed on illegal drug charges, a critical Supreme Court chief justice has been ousted by fellow judges, and foreign critics, including an Australian nun, have been barred from entering the Philippines or threatened with deportation.