Conspiracy to commit what?
At the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group’s 67th founding anniversary celebration last Monday, Solicitor General Jose Calida declared that the filing of sedition complaints against several opposition figures, notably Vice President Leni Robredo, was a high point of his office’s cooperation with the Philippine National Police-CIDG.
“Truly,” he sermonized, “there is no crime more abhorrent than the betrayal of one’s country, aside from terrorism, sedition, inciting to sedition is committed and treason in the time of peace, more so when the traitor is an elected public official who before his or her assumption of office swore to defend and uphold the constitution. Thus, in its valiant attempt to fulfill the sacred oath to serve and protect the people, the PNP-CIDG filed sedition cases against respondents Vice President Leni Robredo, Mr. (Antonio) Trillanes and other well-known personalities who are responsible for the creation and release of the video ‘Ang Totoong Narcolist’.”
Mere hours after those remarks, however, the Department of Justice (DOJ) demolished Calida’s boast when it cleared Robredo and a number of other respondents of the charges. Exonerated with Robredo were six churchmen — Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Bishops Pablo Virgilio David, Honesto Ongtioco, and Teodoro Bacani, “running priest” Fr. Robert Reyes and former education secretary La Salle Br. Armin Luistro — along with 2019 opposition senatorial candidates Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada and Florin Hilbay, former senator Bam Aquino, former Magdalo representative Gary Alejano, senators Leila de Lima and Risa Hontiveros, and certain members of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
The charges against this virtual convention of supposed co-conspirators were all dropped for lack of evidence, according to the DOJ; or, as Undersecretary Markk L. Perete put it in more lawyerly wording: “In finding no probable cause for sedition or inciting to sedition, the [prosecution] panel found the element of public and tumultuous uprising wanting.”
The same panel did, however, find probable cause to indict, for the lesser charge of “conspiracy to commit sedition,” 11 respondents, including former senator Antonio Trillanes IV; Catholic priests Fr. Albert Alejo and Fr. Flaviano Villanueva; and Peter Joemel Advincula, alias “Bikoy,” whose videos that were aired at the height of the 2019 election campaign season alleged that President Duterte’s relatives and close political allies were involved in the illegal drug trade.
The DOJ panel of prosecutors, in its 57-page resolution, said Trillanes et al. were indicted because, based mainly on Advincula’s testimony, they found “interlocking pieces of proof” that showed 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 view of toppling and destabilizing the current administration.”
The downgraded charge against Trillanes et al., filed before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court on Monday, has, however, left some legal experts scratching their heads.
While the DOJ had dismissed charges of sedition, inciting to sedition, libel, cyber libel, estafa, and obstruction of justice against all respondents, including Trillanes, the former senator and a few others were still slapped with the complaint of “conspiracy to commit sedition” — despite the DOJ’s finding that there was “no probable cause for sedition or inciting to sedition.”
“If there is no finding of inciting to commit sedition because of absence of evidence on inciting the people to rise ‘publicly and tumultuously’ against the government, how then could there be a ‘conspiracy to commit sedition’?” asked a bewildered Mel Sta. Maria, dean of Far Eastern University’s Institute of Law, in a Facebook post.
“The most important element of sedition is public and tumultuous uprising. IF that element is not proven, there can be no sedition. And if there is no sedition, how can there be ‘conspiracy to commit sedition’? This is weird.”
“ALL must have been exonerated,” he concluded.
It appears that throw anything against the wall and see which one sticks was the OSG-CIDG’s main battle plan in this Swiss cheese of a case designed to harass the opposition.
Now that it’s been thrown out for being baseless and lacking evidence, the hazily cobbled charge against Trillanes et al. comes off as mere grasping at straws — another chance to needle the President’s most persistent critic.
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