MANILA – The Department of Justice (DOJ) on Friday deferred the filing of counter-affidavits of Vice President Leni Robredo, former senator Antonio Trillanes IV and more than 30 other opposition figures accused of plotting the ouster of President Rodrigo Duterte in the sedition complaint pending before it.
This came as 15 respondents filed motions either to suspend the proceedings or to inspect the evidence of complainant Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) during the start of the sedition probe.
Robredo, Trillanes, Sen. Risa Hontiveros and other respondents have questioned the lack of evidence attached to the complaint filed by the CIDG, which only included the affidavit of Peter Joemel “Bikoy” Advincula.
Advincula had come forward to identify himself as the hooded figure behind the "Ang Totoong Narcolist" videos, which tagged President Rodrigo Duterte's family in the drug trade.
The PNP-CIDG charged more than 30 opposition figures, members of the Catholic clergy and lawyers for allegedly taking part in "Project Sodoma," an alleged plot to remove Duterte and install Robredo as president and Trillanes as vice president.
Advincula’s affidavit, according to Trillanes, does not even specify the actions of each of the 38 respondents named and which of them committed which acts. Aside from sedition, the respondents are facing charges of inciting to sedition, libel, cyberlibel, estafa, harboring a criminal and obstruction of justice.
“To compel the respondents to respond and/or to file their Counter-Affidavits at this time would clearly violate their rights to be informed of the nature of the charges against them, and to be confronted of the evidence against them, which are essential requirements of due process of law. Needless to state, same will clearly compromise their respective defenses in the case,” Trillanes said, claiming the CIDG’s investigation would result in a “virtual fishing expedition.”
Respondents claimed their right to due process requires that they be informed of the nature of the complaint against them. They cited the admission of the CIDG in its letter referral to the DOJ that it is still conducting an investigation into the case.
Hontiveros, meanwhile, asked the DOJ to inspect the original documents and other evidence attached to the complaint as well as additional evidence in the CIDG’s possession, citing the Rules of Court and a Supreme Court case which allows discovery proceedings like inspection and production of evidence.
In previous media interviews, PNP chief Police General Oscar Albayalde said they have other evidence in their possession.
In his affidavit, Advincula claimed he has copies of text messages and conversations of the Project Sodoma group in various platforms, documents, keys and access cards to different accommodations he stayed in, cellphones, a desktop and other gadgets, as well as fake identification cards.
The prosecutors, led by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Olivia Torrevillas, gave the CIDG 5 days to furnish respondents a copy of the USB attached to the referral letter containing the additional evidence.
They said they would only resolve the case on the basis of evidence submitted by the CIDG.
She also gave the Office of the Solicitor General, which acts as the CIDG’s counsel, 10 days to respond to the motions.
10 RESPONDENTS PRESENT
Most of the respondents were represented by their lawyers during Friday’s preliminary investigation.
Only 10 respondents attended the proceedings, including former opposition senatorial candidates Chel Diokno, Florin Hilbay and Erin Tañada, along with former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te.
Diokno, Hilbay and Tañada were accused of being part of the shadow group which allegedly took care of financial and logistical support as well as security and accommodations.
Lawyer Serafin Salvador and his wife Carmelita, who also allegedly provided support to the ouster plot, also attended. They submitted their counter-affidavits.
Priests Fr. Flavie Villanueva, Fr. Albert Alejo and Fr. Robert Reyes were also present but they asked for more time to submit their counter-affidavits.
Advincula, himself a respondent, was also present but did not give any statements to the media.
Meanwhile, the prosecutors confirmed receiving the counter-affidavits of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David and retired Novaliches Bishop Teodoro Bacani Jr. at the DOJ on Thursday.
Prosecutors tentatively set the next hearing on Sept. 6, 2019 at 9 a.m. for the submission of the respondents' counter-affidavits.
NUPL: CHARGES 'HOGWASH'
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers chair Neri Colmenares and president Edre Olalia showed up during the probe to offer support to lawyer-respondents.
In a statement, the lawyers’ group called the raps “pure and unadulterated hogwash.”
“[W]e view this slew of charges as scraps of paper meant to punish and silence, even prevent and stop, us from doing our work and advocacy for justice, accountability, due process and good government,” it said.
Lawyers’ group Mananggol Laban sa Extra-judicial Killings (Manlaban sa EJK) called for the dropping of charges against Diokno, Hilbay, Tañada, Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) president Domingo Egon Cayosa, former IBP President Abdiel Dan Elijah Fajardo and former IBP legal aid director Minerva Ambrosio. They called the case “persecution of the opposition.”
“Duterte is not the state, no matter the self-aggrandizement. Attacks on him, his conduct, his character, must not be confused with direct attacks on the state. Criticism of his policies and governance are all allowable under the mantle of democratic struggle. These trumped-up charges, taken together with clear threats, red-tagging, and killings, were verily crafted to stifle dissent and silence his critics," the group said.
"As in many other instances, the law is being weaponized by Duterte lackeys and an unapologetically partisan OSG to keep their control and power,” it said.
In a statement, the Liberal Party denounced the sedition raps as a form of political harassment, the “biggest case” the collective opposition has faced under the administration.
“If they think they can silence us, if they think that these attacks would stop us from telling the truth, if they think dragging us down in courts of public opinion would quiet dissent, they are wrong,” it said.
“Dissent is essential to a democracy. We will continue to fight against abuses of power. We will continue to call out questionable actions and decisions. Most importantly, we stand by our people and continue to defend our democracy,” it added.
During the proceedings, supporters of the respondents, including former social welfare secretary Dinky Soliman, gathered outside the DOJ on Padre Faura Street decrying the charges.