QC court dismisses sedition charges vs ex-senator Trillanes, 7 others

A Quezon City  Metropolitan Trial Court (MTC) has dismissed the conspiracy to commit sedition charges against former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and seven other individuals in relation to the "Ang Totoong Narcolist" videos in 2019 where then President Rodrigo Duterte was accused of being involved in the illegal drugs trade.

Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 138 Presiding Judge Kristine Grace L. Suarez signed a resolution on July 14, 2023, which granted the separate demurrers to evidence  on the case individually filed by the accused persons -  Trillanes, Peter Joemel Advincula alias "Bikoy," Jonnel P. Sangalang, Yolanda Villanueva Ong, Fr. Flaviano Villanueva, Fr. Albert E. Alejo, Vicente R. Romano III, and Ronnil Carlo S. Enriquez - through their respective counsels

The resolution, which was made public on Wednesday, Sept. 6, dismissed the charges against the accused due to insufficiency of evidence on the case.

A demurrer to evidence is an objection or exception by one of the parties in an action at law, to the effect that the evidence which his adversary produced, is insufficient in point of law (whether true or not) to make out his case or sustain the issue, the court said.

The charges against the accused stemmed from the "Ang Totoong Narcolist" videos which went viral in 2019, where Advincula claimed that Duterte and several other individuals, including the former president's family, were involved in illegal drugs trade.

He later claimed that the videos were part of a plot to oust Duterte as president. He surrendered to the authorities and tagged the opposition as the mastermind behind the videos, which led the Philippine National Police (PNP) to file sedition charges before the Department of Justice.

The court said the case was filed by the Department of Justice in an Information in February 2020 against the accused individuals “for allegedly conspiring to rise publicly and tumultuously,  and to employ means outside of legal methods by circulating malicious and scurrilous libels and fabricating evidence against then President Rodrigo Duterte and his family members for the purpose of inflicting an act of hate or revenge against them.”

Three police officers were presented by the prosecution as witnesses to prove its case against the accused.

However, the court said that “all the witnesses presented by the prosecution to prove its case against herein accused consistently admitted upon their grueling cross-examination by different defense counsels that they have no personal knowledge of the incident and circumstances narrated in the 'Sinumpaang Salaysay' (sworn statement) of accused Peter Joemer Advincula on which the instant case for conspiracy to commit sedition is founded.”

Due to the witnesses’ lack of personal knowledge on the case, the court said that their testimonies had no probative value in proving the circumstances indicated in Advincula’s affidavit.

“Basic in the rule in evidence that a witness can only testify on the facts that the knows of his own personal knowledge or those which are derived from his own perception. A witness may not testify on what he merely learned, read,  or heard from others because such testimony is considered hearsay and may not be received as proof of the truth of what he has learned read, or heard,” it added.

“Ergo, in the absence of personal knowledge to the facts narrated in the Sinumpaang Salaysay, it necessarily follows that they also do not have personal knowledge of the participation of each and every accused in the commission of the acts described in the Sinumpaang Salaysay,” it stated.

It noted that Advincula was not presented during the trial to testify as to the the veracity, truthfulness and accuracy of his statements made.

“This is fatal to the case of the prosecution. The essential witness with personal knowledge of the entire incident was demonstrably not presented in Court to substantiate the very basis of the criminal action filed,” it said.

“Clear are the records that this Sinumpang Salaysay was not authenticated and verified by the affiant by the accused Advincula at the time of trial. Jurisprudence dictates that an affidavit is merely hearsay evidence when its affiant or maker did not take the witness stand,” the court said.

It also said that the documentary evidence offered and admitted as exhibits for the prosecution does not prove the commission of the crime of conspiracy to commit sedition and degree of the participation of the accused persons.

“In the face of all foregoing, the Court finds that the prosecution failed to present competent or sufficient evidence to sustain the indictment or support a verdict of guilt against all accused. Succinctly, the prosecution failed to prove the commission of the crime of conspiracy to commit sedition as alleged in the Information and the precise degree of the participation therein by all accused,” it added.