The political drama unfolding in our country is generating a whole lot more of agitated emotion compared to any action-thriller movie showing in cinemas today.
President Duterte’s proclamation nullifying the amnesty given to Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV eight years ago has stirred up a hornet’s nest of outrage. Social media is full of angry posts that begin with “I’m not a fan (or supporter) of Trillanes, but…” The posts go on to lambast the Duterte administration with unprintable tirades.
Others manage to channel their rage by coming up with memes that mock the amnesty nullification with ridiculous analogies. The President declared “void ab initio” the amnesty given to the senator supposedly because his application for amnesty cannot be located. Netizens sarcastically ask: If your application for a marriage license can no longer be located, will that make you single again? If your application for a birth certificate can no longer be located, will that make you a nonexistent person?
The President seeks the arrest of Trillanes evidently to punish the opposition senator for his incessant attacks and to try to silence him, a repeat of what has been done to another opposition senator, Leila de Lima.
The Duterte administration may have assessed that the arrest of Trillanes will generate protests that are within its power to manage, just like in the case of De Lima. The government probably thinks the initial howls of dissent will eventually simmer, and the people will ultimately become nonchalant to the reality of another opposition senator in jail.
The President terribly miscalculates.
Mr. Duterte has achieved for Trillanes what the latter has been trying to attain for the past two years: widespread public empathy for the senator’s sustained opposition of, and highly critical stance against, the President. From the time Mr. Duterte assumed the presidency, Trillanes has been the biggest thorn in his side. The senator has accused the President of crimes such as acting as protector of drug lords, and unexplained wealth that runs into the hundreds of millions.
Somehow, the crusade of Trillanes has not gained much traction in terms of public support, notwithstanding the fact that the charges he has hurled against the President are based on plausible circumstances, and despite the fact that Trillanes has been the most fearless among the voices of defiance. The senator’s stern demeanor and stiff jowl deprive him of charisma, which would otherwise easily attract extensive supporters to his causes.
But two reasons have worked to make it different for Trillanes this time.
First, there is very serious grumbling among the people because of the worsening economy. And the public’s foul mood has been primed by the President’s blasphemous attacks against God and the Catholic Church, his profanities, and his excessive friendliness with China despite the latter’s occupation of our territories in the West Philippine Sea.
If the ruling government thinks it can arrest Trillanes as a means to distract people and to instill fear among leaders who foment mass protests, it has committed a major blunder. The opposite result has been achieved. Mr. Duterte has unwittingly crowned Trillanes as the rallying figure of all opposition forces and enthroned him as the symbol of the people’s discontent.
Second, the reason used to justify the nullification of Trillanes’ amnesty is revolting even to ordinary people, that’s why viral memes abound ridiculing it. It’s degrading to even exert effort to explain why it’s preposterous.
The power to declare a completed government act as “void ab initio” exclusively belongs to the judiciary. If our courts declare that the president has coequal power to make “void ab initio” declarations, what is there to prevent President Duterte from proclaiming that the 1987 Constitution is void ab initio because the ballots cast by the people who ratified the same no longer exist?
Legal anarchy and de facto dictatorship loom large in the horizon.
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