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Duterte tightens grip on power with purge of jailed De Lima’s senate allies

President Duterte has tightened his grip on power by stripping allies of jailed senator Leila de Lima of senior roles in the government.

In a motion led by boxer-turned-senator Manny Pacquiao, a close ally of the president, three senators lost their leadership of house committees and one was ousted as pro-tempore, the Senate’s second most senior position.

The Liberal Party senators stripped of their roles were Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, as well as Akbayan Party Senator Risa Hontiveros. The Akbayan Party is allied with the Liberals.

All four had backed Senator De Lima, the most vocal critic of the president’s bloody war on drugs, who since Friday has been imprisoned in national police headquarters Camp Crame on drug-related charges.

(See our reports here and here.)

The move has substantially strengthened President Duterte’s control over the powerful 24-seat Senate. Dozens of lawmakers in the lower house have switched loyalties to his party since he took office last year.

The four senators who lost their posts had attended a rally on Saturday to mark 31 years since the People Power uprising that removed Ferdinand Marcos.

The annual commemoration was highly politically charged this year, with rival factions supporting and condemning the president and his war on drugs.

More than 7,700 people have died since the campaign began eight months ago, a third in official police raids and sting operations. The authorities deny claims that many of the other deaths were extrajudicial killings.

Paolo Benigno Aquino, who was voted out as head of the Senate education committee, said: “If this is the price to pay for showing up at the streets, for talking about democracy, if this is the price to pay, I’d gladly pay.”

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De Lima, a former justice minister who has called Duterte a “sociopathic serial killer”, is accused of taking bribes from convicts who ran narcotics operations in jail.

She dismisses the accusation as part of a vendetta by the president.

With De Lima detained, the Senate has a minority bloc of five members, which will now be led by Antonio Trillanes, another critic of the president.

He alleges Duterte has tens of millions of dollars of hidden wealth and operated a death squad when he was a city mayor. Duterte denies all of the allegations.

 

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