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Jailed Philippine candidate scores coup at the ballot box

Leader of alleged plot against regime declared winner of Senate seat.

June 15, 2007|Sol Vanzi and Paul Watson | Special to The Times

MANILA — Alleged coup plotter Antonio Trillanes has won a seat in the Philippines Senate, and he was ordered released from a marine brig long enough to attend his victory ceremony today.

The former navy lieutenant, serving time in a military jail on charges that he tried to overthrow the government in 2003, arrived two hours late to the ceremony and was welcomed with loud cheers from thousands of supporters.

Some cried and thumped the table as an election official proclaimed him a senator.

At the brig where he is being held, 29 marine officers had watched the announcement of election winners with Trillanes around a TV set Thursday.

"Yes!" they yelled, and then hugged and shook hands. Many raised clenched fists. Trillanes says many troops voted for him in the May 14 midterm election, and the military is polling service members to gauge the level of support for the former renegade naval officer.

Speaking to reporters at the brig, Trillanes said his election showed that the 2003 mutiny was justified.

The attempted overthrow collapsed after 18 hours when the public and military failed to rally behind it.

"Definitely it's a vindication for the group, and we can now claim directly that the people are behind us ... in everything we fought and stand for," he said.

Trillanes was invited to attend today's proclamation ceremony at the Philippine International Convention Center.

His lawyer, Reynaldo Robles, filed a court motion Thursday afternoon requesting a temporary pass, and Department of Justice said it would not oppose it.

A judge Thursday night ordered that Trillanes be allowed to attend, and Armed Forces Chief of Staff Hermogenes Esperon ordered temporary liberty.

Robles said he would go to court to ask that Trillanes be freed to carry out his responsibilities as senator, but added that the prisoner would work from his cell if necessary.

Robles said Thursday that Trillanes was willing to return to the brig each night if he was allowed to sit in the Senate and do related work in the daytime.

In an interview with The Times last week, Trillanes said he would participate in conference calls and committee meetings in jail if he was not released.

Trillanes faces criminal charges stemming from the alleged coup attempt as well as a general court-martial on charges of behavior unbecoming of an officer and a gentleman.

Half of the Senate's 24 seats were on the ballot last month.

Senators in the Philippines are chosen nationwide, and the top 12 vote-getters won seats. Trillanes finished 11th, with more than 11 million votes, despite spending the campaign behind bars in Manila's Fort Bonifacio, the military's headquarters.

He is among eight members of the Genuine Opposition coalition to win Senate seats. The alliance has called for the impeachment of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Her Team Unity allies dominate the House of Representatives, but won only two of the contested Senate seats.

Special correspondent Vanzi reported from Manila, and Times staff writer Watson reported from Jakarta, Indonesia.

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