Department of Justice

Priests plead not guilty to sedition in ‘oust Duterte’ plot charge

Lian Buan
Priests plead not guilty to sedition in ‘oust Duterte’ plot charge

Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, Fr. Flavie Villanueva and Fr. Albert Alejo at the Quezon City Hall of Justice on October 22, 2020, to attend to the arraignment on sedition charges of sedition filed against them by the government.

Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler

The arraignment of former senator Antonio Trillanes IV has been rescheduled to January 2021 as he filed a motion to quash the charge

Two priests on Thursday, October 22, pleaded not guilty to the conspiracy to commit sedition charge filed against them by the Department of Justice (DOJ) over an alleged plot to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.

Priests Flaviano Villanueva, SVD and Albert Alejo, SJ, entered their plea on Thursday during an in-person arraignment before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court (MeTC) Branch 138, Villanueva confirmed to Rappler.

Villanueva and Alejo are among the 11 charged by the DOJ in February over their alleged involvement in the production and dissemination of the viral Ang Totoong Narcolist videos which linked Duterte and people close to him in the drug trade.

The person in the video, Peter Joemel Advincula alias Bikoy, has since retracted all his statements in the video against Duterte and turned the tables on the political opposition. He also dragged priests and bishops into the alleged ouster plot.

The bishops were cleared, as well as Vice President Leni Robredo, but the two priests, who are active in helping victims of the war on drugs, were charged. (READ: How ‘witnesses’ vs Duterte got Trillanes, Jesuit priest in trouble)

Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV was also charged but his arraignment was moved to January 21, 2021, because he had filed a motion to quash.

The arraignment for other defendants pushed through, with pre-marking of evidence set on February 11, 2021.

‘There’s no case’

Trillanes adopted the motion to quash earlier filed by co-defendant Joselito Saracho.

The motion argued that the DOJ has no case of conspiracy to commit sedition against them.

In the DOJ resolution, the prosecutors said that “the panel cannot close its eyes to the fact that there was a plan intended to topple the Duterte administration” through the videos.

The motion said the prosecution tried to mix provisions in the Revised Penal Code to “make it appear that conspiracy to commit sedition is the formal charge,” although “a careful reading of the information easily shows the prosecution mixed up the provisions of the crimes of sedition, conspiracy to commit sedition, and inciting to sedition.”

Based on the charge sheet, the defendants are accused of “circulating malicious and scurrilous libels” against Duterte and the first family. The motion said the charge of circulating “scurrilous libels” is a provision of inciting to sedition under Article 142, not conspiracy to commit sedition under Article 141.

Article 14 is a one-sentence provision that charges a person who conspires to commit sedition. Sedition, under Article 139, can be committed in 5 ways.

The DOJ said Trillanes et al committed the third mode of sedition which is to “inflict any act of hate or revenge upon the person or property of any public officer or employee.”

But the main definition of sedition is to “rise publicly and tumultuously” against the government.

The motion said the DOJ did not state factual allegations on how the 11 defendants came together to agree to “rise publicly and tumultuously” against the government. (READ: Looking at ‘inciting to sedition’ in the time of Duterte)

Antonio Trillanes IV
Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV at the Quezon City Hall of Justice on October 22, 2020, for the arraignment on sedition charges filed against him and several others by the government.
Photo by Angie de Silva/Rappler
‘No factual allegation’

The DOJ relied on the affidavit of Advincula, who had made extraordinary flip-flops on the same thread of stories since 2016. Advincula’s first version of the story accused the Aquino government of the same exact crimes.

“[We] respectfully submit that this Honorable Court has no recourse but to grant the Motion to Quash for the facts charged in the Information do not constitute any crime, and to dismiss the instant case as the defective information is void and cannot be amended,” said the motion.

“Surely, to let the accused suffer the travails of a protracted criminal trial only to be acquitted in the end on the ground that the Information from which the case originated was null and void is totally unjust and inhuman, adds to the unnecessary clogging of dockets, and should not be countenanced by the Court,” the motion added. 

Trillanes had admitted to meeting Advincula, but the opposition figure said it was just to vet his claims against Duterte which he routinely did during his last term in the Senate where he presented witnesses that accused the president of ordering murders through the Davao Death Squad.

As he exited the courthouse, Trillanes said, “Pakana lahat ng ito ng administrasyon ni Duterte (These are all ploys of the Duterte administration).”

Trillanes still awaits his fate in the still pending DOJ investigation into a separate kidnapping complaint against him. Kidnapping is a non-bailable charge. – With reports from Angie De Silva/Rappler.com

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Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.