MANILA - The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) on Friday denounced the filing of criminal charges against its members Chel Diokno and Theodore Te, as well as opposition figures, saying the raps were "baseless and means of intimidation."
"The charges are not only baseless, they are meant to silence and persecute human rights lawyers, opposition leaders, and the Church, and to send a message to anyone who dares to criticize this administration," FLAG said in a statement.
Vice President Leni Robredo, senators Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima, and other opposition figures were also accused by the Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) of sedition, cyber libel, and other charges in connection with the viral "Ang Totoong Narcolist" videos that tagged the President Rodrigo Duterte's family with illegal drugs operations.
The complaint was based on a sworn statement of Peter Joemel Advincula, the man who introduced himself as hooded figure "Bikoy" in the videos that made rounds on social media at the height of the May electoral campaign.
Advincula, in his statement, detailed "supposed meetings with the aforenamed personalities and how they planned what he referred to as 'Project Sodoma.' The project was to allegedly paint Duterte black and "destabilize his government by implicating him, his family and other government officials in drug syndicates."
FLAG called Advincula a witness "with absolutely no credibility." It also blasted CIDG for filing the charges.
"The charges filed by the CIDG are designed to intimidate, harass and interfere with our lawyers, who are just doing their jobs as human rights defenders," FLAG said.
The legal group called on the government to "ensure that lawyers are able to perform all of their professional functions without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.”
"Lawyers [must] not suffer, or be threatened with, prosecution or administrative, economic or other sanctions for any action taken in accordance with recognized professional duties, standards and ethics,” FLAG said.
FLAG also called on Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to "immediately throw out" the charges.
Other opposition figures charged are former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, former Sen. Bam Aquino, Moro civic leader Samira Gutoc, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay, election lawyer Romulo Macalintal, and House Deputy Speaker Erin Tañada, who ran for the Senate under opposition slate Otso Diretso in the May elections but lost.
The same charges were also filed against vocal critics of the Duterte administration including Archbishops Socrates Villegas and Pablo Virgilio David, Bishops Honesto Ongtioco and Teodoro Bacani Jr., and priests Albert Alejo and Robert Reyes.
Former Education Secretary Bro. Armin Luistro and several officials of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) were also cited in the complaint.