How ‘witnesses’ vs Duterte got Trillanes, Jesuit priest in trouble

MANILA, Philippines – Opposition figure Antonio Trillanes IV extended his hand to lawyer Jude Sabio on Tuesday morning, October 22, at the Department of Justice (DOJ) – as if the two have not had such a public misunderstanding, it almost looked like they were going to blow their defense in the kidnapping charges they are facing.

Sabio had published a column saying Trillanes tried to convince him to lawyer for Peter Joemel Advincula or more infamously known as "Bikoy." The Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) wanted to use that account against Trillanes in a separate inciting to sedition case against the former senator.

But on Tuesday, the two were cordial, and even sat next to each other as the DOJ prosecutors conducted their second hearing into the kidnapping case filed against Trillanes, Sabio, and Jesuit priest Father Albert Alejo by Davao-based businesswoman Guillermina Arcillas Barrido.

"First time naming nagkita ulit since lumabas 'yung artikulo ko at nag-trending. Sabi niya kanina ayusin daw niya kapag humupa na ang sitwasyon. I don't know ano ibig sabihin nun," Sabio told reporters after the hearing.

(It's the first time we saw each other again since my article was published and trended. He told me earlier he'd take care of it when things cool down. I don't know what he meant by that.)

The future situation Trillanes refers to – when things cool down – is uncertain at this point.

Trillanes and Alejo also face inciting to sedition charges, which is set to be resolved soon by the DOJ.

The kidnapping case, in the event of an indictment, would be non-bailable.

Trillanes and Alejo find themselves in this junction because of different extents of engagement of "witnesses" purporting to have damaging information against President Rodrigo Duterte.

Barrido kidnapping case

Barrido's accusation is this: Trillanes, Sabio, and Alejo forced her to sign her name on a "ready-made" affidavit that would link Duterte to the drug trade and a case of extrajudicial killing in Davao City. She was allegedly held inside a convent against her will for the purpose of completing the affidavit.

Sabio admitted to preparing Barrido's affidavit, but said it wasn't "ready-made" but a product of thorough inquiry. He said it was Alejo who put the woman in a convent.

Sabio said, based on his meetings with Barrido in and outside the convent in December 2016, he could swear she was not kidnapped, adding that they even met at a mall during her stay.

"Ako, sasabihin ko sa inyo bilang isang abogado, kung alam kong si Barrido ay kinidnap at nalaman kong kinidnap 'yan ay talagang ide-denounce ko pati si Father Alejo kung talagang kinidnap s'ya, pati ang mga madre. Eh hindi naman talaga s'ya kinidnap, di ba?" Sabio said.

(This I will tell you, as a lawyer, if I knew that Barrido was kidnapped I would denounce it, even Father Alejo, if she had really been kidnapped, even by the nuns. But she was not kidnapped, was she?)

Alejo has not submitted a counter-affidavit yet, and has so far refused to address specific details in Barrido's narrative. But in an earlier interview he said, "Kami po ay gumagalaw lang ayon sa udyok ng aming pananampalataya (We act according to the convictions of our faith)."

Alejo has been the subject of threats and other hate messages from Duterte's supporters because of his vocal criticism of the violence in the drug war.

Trillanes said he never once met or talked to Barrido, but he admitted his office vetted her information, but that it did not pass their verification process.

Trillanes presented in his counter-affidavit an immigration certificate that shows he was out of the country on November 15, 2016, the date that Barrido said he and the former senator met. This was also his defense in the Bikoy sedition case.

Sabio said: "Actually kami na lang ni Father Alejo ang nagtuloy n'yan, kasi si Senator Trillanes dumistansiya na s'ya d'yan dahil hindi s'ya naniniwala sa testigo na 'yan."

(Actually, it was just Father Alejo and I who carried on with that case because Senator Trillanes distanced himself because he did not believe that witness.)

Sabio said Alejo believed the allegations against Barrido that she was only scamming them for money. Sabio said their problems started from disagreements over money – her allowance for a safe house and other living expenses.

"Sabi ni Father Alejo, meron na tayong mas bago at mas magandang testigo. Hindi ko s'ya tinanong, ang sabi niya may bagong testigo. Nung January 2017 lumabas si [Arthur] Lascañas 'yun na pala. Si Lascañas 'yung bago at mas magandang testigo," Sabio said.

(Father Alejo said, we have a new and better witness. I didn't ask him, he said there would be a new witness and, come January 2017, Arthur Lascañas came out. It turned out Lascañas was the new and better witness.)

Lascañas, who was represented by the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) in an explosive press conference inside the Senate, is a retired Davao policeman who admitted to have carried out Duterte's kill orders. He is now in hiding.

"Kaya si Mina nagalit 'yan, natural magagalit ka," Sabio added. (That's why Mina got angry, it's only natural.)

Bikoy sedition case

According to the counter-affidavits of Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas and Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, both respondents in the inciting to sedition case, it was through Alejo that they met Advincula.

David even said Alejo asked the Diocese of Caloocan for help in giving sanctuary to Advincula, but that the bishop denied the request.

In Sabio's version of events, he warned Trillanes about Advincula. 

"Sinabihan ko si Senator Trillanes sa Novotel na huwag mo nang pasukin 'yan, sir, it's a trap," Sabio said. (I told Senator Trillanes in Novotel to not engage with that anymore because it's a trap.)

Trillanes has also admitted vetting Advincula the same way he did Barrido. Both did not pass, according to him.

Previously potential witnesses, with resources poured in, both Advincula and Barrido now present legal threats to Trillanes and Alejo, and more than 30 others whose names were dragged into the sedition case.

Despite this, Trillanes said he would change nothing in the way he engages individuals who claim to have something on Duterte.

"Alam 'nyo, even itong si Bikoy and itong is Barrido, parehas naman silang hindi ko inilabas eh, di ba? So I believe tama 'yung vetting process namin. Kasi kung nag-check out 'yan, inilabas ko 'yan sa Senado, 'tinaya ko 'yung pangalan ko sa tabi niya," said Trillanes.

(This Bikoy and Barrido, I did not present either of them, did I? So I believe my vetting process was correct. Because if they checked out, I should have brought them to the Senate, and staked my name for them.)

"Pero kung talagang mga scammers 'yan, eh ine-name drop nila eh na nagkita kayo, eh what can you do, di ba? Basta sa akin we will not stop in entertaining witnesses na may credible information kasi doon naman 'yan he. We’ll have to give them the benefit of the doubt," added Trillanes.

(That's what scammers do – they would really namedrop you and claim that you met them. What can you do? For me I will not stop entertaining witnesses with credible information because that's how it is. We'll have to give them the benefit of the doubt.)

The kidnapping complaint is at least the 9th new case filed against Trillanes in the Duterte administration, not including the rebellion and coup d'etat cases that the government attempted to revive to jail him.

Kidnapping is non-bailable.

"I am a fatalist. Sinabi ko na dito, I expect this administration to do its worst. Kung ano man 'yang nasa harap ko, sasalubungin ko yan," Trillanes told reporters after the hearing. (I already said that I expect this administration to do its worst. I will face whatever is put before me.) – Rappler.com

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.

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