Trillanes arrest shows ‘attempt to silence dissent’ – Robredo

MANILA, Philippines – Vice President Leni Robredo believes the government is attempting to silence critics after staunch opposition Senator Antonio Trillanes IV was arrested on Tuesday, September 25. 

Robredo made the statement in an interview with  reporters at the Senate, where she defend her office’s proposed budget for 2019, when  asked if she saw a crackdown on the opposition, as Trillanes was then poised to become the second opposition senator to be arrested under President Rodrigo Duterte. (READ: Trillanes on his arrest: ‘Democracy died today’)

Iyong sa akin, sana hindi. Pero iyong nakita natin with Senator Trillanes, with [ousted Supreme Court] chief justice [Maria Lourdes] Sereno, with Senator Leila [de Lima], parang an attempt to silence dissent,” said Robredo.

(For me, I hope not. But what I see from the cases of Senator Trillanes, with ousted Supreme Court chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, and Senator Leila de Lima, it appears to be  an attempt to silence dissent.)

The Vice President talked to Trillanes briefly before police served him an arrest warrant over the charge of rebellion, which was revived after Duterte issued Proclamation No. 572 seeking to revoke the amnesty granted to Trillanes for leading the 2003 Oakwood mutiny and the 2007 Manila Peninsula siege. He posted bail that afternoon.

De Lima has been detained in Camp Crame since February 2017 for multiple drug charges. Sereno, meanwhile, was removed after the SC granted the quo warranto petition filed against her by Solicitor General Jose Calida. 

Before his arrest, Trillanes said in a press conference that democracy died in the Philippines that day. His ally, Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano, added the country was in a dictatorship. 

What do other opposition members say? Former Quezon representative Erin Tañada, one of the Liberal Party’s (LP) first 3 senatorial bets for 2019, also slammed the arrest of Trillanes. 

"Although I respect the decision of the court, I disagree with the decision of the judge that a warrant of arrest should be issued against Senator Trillanes. What is the basis for the issuance? There is no more crime because the case was dismissed. This is an attempt to silence him,” said Tañada, who is also a lawyer.

Caloocan City 2nd District Representative Edgar Erice, also an LP member, said it is “unthinkable and unimaginable” that a court will revive a dismissed case for rebellion against an elected senator.  “What happened to our judiciary? What happened  to our democratic institutions?” he asked.  

Senator Francis Pangilinan said: “While we respect the court order, we disagree with it. It is as clear as day that the revocation of grant of amnesty is illegal and an abuse of presidential powers and must be vigorously opposed.”

“All the pieces of evidence.submitted to the Court both documentary and testimonial prove a valid application and amnesty proclamation. This is clear administration harassment of its critic,” he added in a mix of Filipino and English.

Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said the Duterte administration should focus on its true foe, high prices, and not the opposition, while Senator Isa Hontiveros called the arrest warrant “a black eye for democracy and rule of law as our courts caved in to the whims of President Rodrigo Duterte.”

“The issuance of the warrant is part of the government's attempt to intimidate political critics and a looming crackdown on the opposition. It reeks of panic and desperation over the growing opposition to the President's authoritarian rule,” Hontiveros said.

Is there a need for dissent? The Vice President said yes, as it is crucial in a “healthy democracy.” 

Hindi naman gustong sabihin na kapag may kumokontra, may masamang gustong mangyari. Pero kung wala kasing kumokontra, ito iyong pinagmumulan ng awtoritaryanismo. Ito iyong pinagmumulan ng pang-aabuso,” said Robredo.

(It doesn’t mean that when someone opposes, that person wants something bad to happen. If no one opposes, that’s where authoritarianism begins. This is where abuse stems from.)

Dapat sana parating may lugar iyong dissenting voices para…kaming mga public officials, parati kaming on our toes (There should always be a place for dissenting voice so public officials like us will be kept on our toes),” she added. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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