Ombudsman junks treason, espionage complaint vs Aquino, Trillanes

Rappler.com
The Ombudsman says the Philippines' backchannel talks with China during the Aquino administration do not constitute treason or espionage

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the Ombudsman dismissed a treason and espionage complaint filed in 2016 against former president Benigno Aquino III and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV.

The complaint was filed in May 2016 for supposed violation of Articles 114 and 117 of the Revised Penal Code after it was revealed that Aquino had tapped Trillanes for backchannel negotiations with Chinese representatives over Scarborough Shoal.

According to the resolution, which was signed by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer Leila Tagulao-Marquez on February 24 but received by one of the respondents only on June 7, there was no probable cause for treason or espionage.

Trillanes’ office provided media a copy of the 16-page resolution on Sunday, June 18.

“As a result of the intense standoff in April and May 2012 between Chinese and Philippines vessels in the Scarborough Shoal, President Aquino’s action of exploring means of peacefully settling the ongoing issue with China was for the interest of the Philippines. It is an inherent presidential power to pursue negotiations with other States. On the other hand, Senator Trillanes merely acted under President Aquino’s instruction to negotiate with Chinese representatives in order to ease the escalating tension between the two States,” read part of the resolution.

It added: “The aggressive posturing of China was made known as early as May 23, 2011 when it was reported that…military garrisons and outposts are located in 6 reefs that are part of the Kalayaan Island Group. The backchannel negotiation between Senator Trillanes and Chinese representatives commenced only in May 2012. The alleged hostilities and aggression in the West Philippine Sea could not, therefore, be attributed to the backchannel discussions between Senator Trillanes and the Chinese representatives.”

The Ombudsman pointed out that treason is a war crime and “not an all-time offense.” Tensions between the Philippines and China over the disputed islands rose during the Aquino administration, but “neither State waged war against the other,” said the Ombudsman.

Backchannel talks, added the Ombudsman, cannot be considered “giving aid to the enemy.”

Trillanes’ role in the situation was first revealed by former senator Juan Ponce Enrile. But the Ombudsman said the documents which Enrile based his allegations on, the so-called “Brady Notes,” were hearsay and “should not be given evidentiary weight.”

The notes, the Ombudsman said, cannot prove that Trillanes committed espionage, which is the act of “gathering, transmitting, or losing information respecting the national defense with intent or reason to believe that the information is to be used to the injury of the Republic of the Philippines or to the advantage of a foreign nation.”

“The decision proves our point from the very start that the case was merely filed to harass and tarnish my reputation. This is what happens when your political opponents start to believe their own propaganda. But no matter how they twist the facts, in the end, the truth will always come out,” said Trillanes in a statement on Sunday.

Under the Aquino administration, the Philippines filed a case against China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, Netherlands. The Philippines eventually won the case.

Relations between the two countries have improved in recent months under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte, who wants the country to move away from the United States and closer to China and Russia.

Trillanes is among Duterte’s fiercest critics. (READ: Trillanes seeks probe into Duterte ‘deal’ with China on Benham Rise– Rappler.com