Cubao diocese refutes sedition claims: 'Bishop Ongtioco never met Bikoy'

MANILA, Philippines – The vicar general of the Diocese of Cubao, Fr Steven Zabala, refuted sedition allegations against Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, who is among those accused over the viral videos of Peter "Bikoy" Advincula.

"That is beyond belief because it is not true," Zabala said in his homily Saturday evening, July 27, echoing the statement of Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines president Davao Archbishop Romulo Valles on the issue.

"For the record, our bishop has never met Peter 'Bikoy' Advincula. And so it is beyond belief, how he had implicated our bishop as a conspirator…that our bishop would conspire to bring down this government," Zabala said.

The vicar general casted doubts on Advincula's claims, saying that it was the Philippine National Police that had earlier dismissed him as nothing more than an "information peddler" when he first appeared in public.

"It is also beyond belief that a case like sedition should be filed based on Bikoy's testimony, whose credibility is questionable…. It wasn't the clergy who sought Bikoy, it was Bikoy who sought the clergy because he claimed his life was in danger," Zabala said.

"And why was his credibility questionable? At that time when he released the narco list? The government, the Malacañang, and the PNP (Philippine National Police) said, 'That man has a dubious character.' But when he turned around, he became credible right away," he added.

The sedition complaint was filed against Ongtioco, priests, and 3 other Church leaders: Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, and Novaliches Bishop emiritus Teodoro Bacani Jr.

It also tagged Vice President Leni Robredo and 35 others mostly belonging to the Liberal Party and its staff for the viral Bikoy videos linking President Rodrigo Duterte and his family to the drug trade.

'Far from Church teachings'

Zabala on Saturday defended Bishop Ongtioco from Advincula's claims, saying that the Church leader is "simple and caring."

"If you know our bishop personally, bringing down the government is very far from his personality. If you love Pope Francis for his simplicity, you will love him (Ongtioco) for the same reason," Zabala said.

The vicar general questioned the purpose of the sedition complaint in linking the Catholic faithful.

"I wonder what is really the purpose of this unjust accusation against our bishops and clergy. Is this meant to harass and silence the Church? Because she is the moral voice that is exposing what is wrong and the immoral?"

But Zabala said that the Catholic Chuch will never cower.

"The Church will never be silenced. It will continue to do its prophetic mission to proclaim love in the midst of apathy, to promote unity in the midst of division, mercy in the midst of hatred, provide strength to those who are powerless; and to speak truth in the midst of falsehood," he said.

In a statement, the Diocese of Cubao said that Advincula's claims are "contrary to what our faith teaches."

"Any form of falsehood and attempt to malign the good reputation of others to advance personal interests is contrary to what our faith teaches. The eighth commandment is clear. 'Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.' The Church will always stand by the truth, no matter how unpopular it may be," the diocese said.

'False testimony'

Other Church leaders tagged in the sedition complaint have denied involvement. Bacani in an earlier Radio Veritas interview said that the filing of the complaint "shows how stupid the police are."

David also called Advincula's claims as "false testimony," calling the complaint "not only unjust, but also atrocious." (READ: Caloocan Bishop Pablo David: Shepherd of his slaughtered sheep)

Advincula first claimed that Duterte and his family were accepting millions in drug money.

He later denied all his claims, saying that these were orchestrated by former senator Antonio Trillanes IV and the Liberal Party. Both had categorically denied the allegations. 

Despite the change in tune, the government listened to him. The Department of Justice will issue subpoenas to those tagged in the complaint starting August 9. –

Aika Rey

Aika Rey covers the Philippine Senate for Rappler. Before writing about politicians, she covered budget, labor, and transportation issues.