By Jeffrey Damicog
The Department of Justice on Monday charged former Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and 10 others before a Quezon City court for reportedly conspiring to commit sedition in accusing a number of personalities, including the Duterte family of involvement in illegal drug activities in a video released online.
The panel of prosecutors chaired by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Olivia Torrevillas, however cleared Vice President Maria Leonor “Leni” Robredo and 24 others, including Senators Risa Hontiveros, Leila de Lima and former Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino of involvement in the “Ang Totoong Narcolist” video series.
Aside from Trillanes, charged with conspiracy to commit sedition were whistleblower Peter Joemel Advincula alias “Bikoy”, former Police Sr. Supt. Eduardo Acierto, Joel Saracho, Boom Enriquez, Yolanda V. Ong, Vicente Romano III, Fr. Albert E. Alejo, Fr. Flaviano Villanueva, Jonnel P. Sangalang, and a certain Monique.
Trillanes, a staunch Duterte critic, dismissed the case as “absurd.”
“This latest absurd case is but another proof that the Duterte administration continues to weaponize the law against the political opposition, critics, and the media,” Trillanes said in a statement given to Senate reporters Monday.
“But let me assure Mr. Duterte that we will not be cowed by such political persecution. On the contrary, we are more determined and motivated to continue our fight for democracy and the rights of our people,” he added.
Advincula’s counsel, Larry Gadon said his client “accepts the findings of the Investigation Panel of the DOJ (Department of Justice) on the inciting to sedition charges against some political personalities led by former Sen. [Antonio] Trillanes,”
Gadon said Advincula insisted that Robredo should have been indicted as well.
“While Advincula respects the findings that Leni Robredo was not indicted, he maintains that Leni Robredo came to Ateneo on two occasions at the same period that the series of videos were conceptualized and that the purpose was not about anything else as Bikoy is not a relative nor a friend that would make Robredo owe him a visit,” the lawyer said.
“Bikoy also pointed out that the visits came at a time during the 2019 senatorial campaign and one of the purposes of the videos was to help improve the chances of the opposition candidates,” he added.
The case stemmed from a complaint filed by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) against those allegedly involved in the “Ang Totoong Narcolist” video series released in April 2019 linking President Duterte, his family and reported allies to illegal drugs.
The PNP-CIDG accused Robredo and 35 respondents in its complaint of having committed sedition, inciting to sedition, cyber libel, libel, estafa, and obstruction of justice.
Using Advincula’s testimony, the PNP-CIDG alleged in its complaint that Advicula was allegedly engaged by the respondents for a destabilization plot called “Project Sodoma” to “spread lies against the President, his family and close associate, making them to appear as illegal trade protectors and how they earned staggering amounts of money.”
Citing the panel’s resolution, the DOJ said the panel found “interlocking pieces of proof” which provide a “complete picture of the grand conspiracy between and among some respondents to create hatred or revenge against the President and his family with the end in view of toppling and destabilizing the current administration.”
“These videos, the Panel found, were made by respondents Advincula; Saracho (who acted as their narrator); Enriquez (videographer) and his assistant, @Monique; Ong and Romano (scriptwriters). The Panel likewise found that Fr. Alejo prepared the JesCom (Jesuit Communication Foundation) where the videos were taken,” the DOJ said.
The DOJ said the panel also pointed out admissions made by respondents, “especially the allegations of Advincula and certain admissions of former Senator Trillanes which bolster the ‘existence of a grand conspiracy between and among some respondents to commit the crime of sedition’.”
The panel also considered the admission of Advincula of being “Bikoy” and Acierto’s March 25, 2019 press statement where he accused the President, his family and his close associates of supposed links to drugs and drug syndicates.
“Advincula submitted as evidence, among others, USB drives, photographs of the respondents, keys and access cards of the places where he and his companions stayed, as well as utility bills and receipts, copies of the purchase receipts of the gadgets and electronic devices used in the making of the videos. These pieces of evidence, along with certain admissions made by some respondents, were used by the Panel in arriving at their conclusion to indict the 11 respondents for conspiracy to commit sedition,” the DOJ added.
On the other hand, the Department said the panel dismissed the complaint for sedition, inciting to sedition, cyberlibel, libel, estafa and obstruction of justice against all respondents.
“In finding no probable cause for sedition or inciting to sedition, the Panel found the element of public and tumultuous uprising wanting,” the DOJ stated.
“It further explained that while the video series ‘contains libelous imputations against President Duterte and his family which tend to create hatred or revenge against them,’ nonetheless no words were uttered which tended to incite the people to take up arms or rise against the government,” it added.
In dismissing libel and cyber libel complaints, the Department said the panel found “absence of the testimony of the aggrieved parties as to the damage they sustained from respondents’ actions.”
In dismissing the estafa complaint, the panel argued that “Advincula’s demand for payment constituted an unlawful consideration for the performance of an illegal act.”
Also, the obstruction of justice complaint was dismissed “because of the absence of evidence that ‘respondents knew or had reasonable ground to believe’ that Advincula was a fugitive from justice when they gave him shelter and accommodation.”
Aside from the Vice-President, those who were cleared were former Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, Robredo’s election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, lawyer Manuel “Chel” Diokno, former Quezon Rep. Lorenzo Tanada III, and Samira Gutoc-Tomawis – the Opposition’s “Otso Diretso” 2019 senatorial candidates. Also cleared were former Supreme Court (SC) spokesman Theodore Te, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) President Egon Cayosa, former IBP President Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo, Atty. Philip Sawali, Minerva Ambrosio, Atty. Serafin Salvador, a certain alias Atty. Chito, Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) vice president and Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, former CBCP president and Pangasinan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Cubao Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, former Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr., Fr. Ruben Reyes, Bro. Armin Luistro, Danilo Songco, and Carmelita Salvador. (With a report from Vanne Terrazola)