We must rally behind Robredo, Pangilinan tells LP bloc in House

MANILA, Philippines (6th UPDATE) – Senator Francis Pangilinan on Friday, July 19, urged fellow Liberal Party (LP) members in the House of Representatives to throw their support behind their chairperson, Vice President Leni Robredo.

The resigned LP president made the call a day after the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) filed a sedition complaint against the Vice President and 35 others, most of whom belong to or are allied with LP. 

“We urge our fellow lawmakers at the House of Representatives to seriously consider where they stand in the face of the harassment and persecution brought upon our party chairperson. We must rally behind our party chairperson,” said Pangilinan.

The past weeks have not been good to Robredo. The Supreme Court, acting as the Presidential Electoral Tribunal, junked her motion to immediately dismiss the electoral protest filed against her by defeated vice presidential bet Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. 

Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission Manuelito Luna also recently floated filing an impeachment case against her following Robredo’s support for the United Nations Human Rights Council resolution seeking to review President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody drug war.  

LP's duty

Pangilinan also reminded the lawmakers of their duty as LP members.

“Lahat tayo, si Vice President Leni, mga kapwa senador sa minorya, at ang mga LP congressmen, hinalal tayo ng taumbayan para pangalagaan at isulong ang kanilang kapakanan (All of us, Vice President Leni, my fellow senators, and the LP congressmen, we were elected by the people to protect and lobby for the welfare),” said Pangilinan.

“Lahat ng panggigipit ng mga nakaraang taon ay dito nagtatapos: ang alisin ang mga balakid sa mga balak ng mga nasa kapangyarihan para ituloy ang patayan, ang paninikluhod sa China, at ang panghabambuhay na paghahari-harian nila sa bansa,”  he added.

(All of the harassment we have been facing in the past year has this end goal: to remove all the obstacles to the plans of those in power to continue the killings, be subservient to China, and to rule over the country forever.) 

Pangilinan made the appeal as LP lawmakers remained open to joining the Duterte-allied majority bloc in the House, despite the administration’s continued attacks against the once-ruling party and its key leaders.

LP members in the House had described this as a strategic decision – taking the hardcore opposition track in the lower chamber would make them independent minority lawmakers, which means they would have no voting powers in House committees to support or block bills.

Quezon City 6th District Representative Jose Christopher Belmonte had earlier given an assurance that should LP become part of the House majority, they would “remain steadfast to principles.”

In a statement issued on Friday night, the 18 LP lawmakers in the House said they "stand solidly" the Vice President.

"The Liberal Democrats in the House stand solidly behind Vice President Leni Robredo. The consensus among our ranks is clear: The attacks and harassment against the Vice President is a red line for every member of the Party," said the LP legislators.

"Malinaw at unanimous ang paniniwala namin dito (Our belief is clear and unanimous here): The Vice President is our leader; the allegations are fictitious; this was initiated by a few misguided sycophants who would rather destabilize the republic than work to uplift the lives of our people," they added.

'Pure hogwash'

In an ambush interview outside the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 205 on Friday, July 19, detained Senator Leila de Lima – one of those named in the complaint – dismissed the case as “pure hogwash.”

“Hogwash; pure hogwash…. Mas basura pa ‘yan siguro kaysa mga isinampang kaso sa akin (That’s even more rubbish than the cases filed against me),” said the fierce Duterte critic, who has been detained in a police facility for over two years over what she and her supporters called "trumped-up" drug charges.

De Lima chided the CIDG for even filing the case and wondered aloud how it conducted its investigation into the allegations of Peter Joemel Advincula or Bikoy.

“Hindi ko alam kung paano nag-imbestiga ang CIDG (I don’t know how the CIDG conducts its investigation). They're supposed to have subpoena powers now, right? Wala man lang (There's not even a) semblance of a decent and professional investigative work,” she said. 

Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, another outspoken Duterte critic included in the complaint, had also called out the CIDG for its "abuse" of its subpoena powers.

"The PNP-CIDG investigators clearly abused and misused the subpoena power recently bestowed on them to single out critics of the Duterte administration," Trillanes said in a statement on Thursday.

Trillanes noted that the CIDG based its complaint on the allegations of Advincula "who had repeatedly lied to the public." (READ: Trillanes denies links to Bikoy: 'He failed our vetting process')

The PNP itself had earlier dismissed Advincula as nothing more than an "information peddler," when the supposed whistleblower first surfaced in public as the person behind the Ang Totoong Narcolist videos that accused members of the Duterte family of involvement in illegal drugs. 

'Badly-written telenovela'

Senator Risa Hontiveros, another subject of the complaint, likened the charges to a horrible TV drama script.

“It is a badly-written telenovela. Bad acting. Awful script. Terrible plot twist. It is also a total waste of taxpayers' money,” Hontiveros said in a statement on Friday.

“Instead of devoting human resources and money to pursue big-time drug lords and other criminals, our police force goes on a wild goose chase to further harass and intimidate the democratic opposition,” she added.

Hontiveros also questioned how the PNP suddenly found Advincula a credible source, when it had earlier assailed his credibility and even threatened him with arrest.

The opposition senator also believed that the filing of the charges – just a few days before Duterte’s 4th SONA – seemed to have been timed “to introduce a ‘distracting narrative’ to the people to veer public attention away from the real issues surrounding the country's state of affairs.”

“We will not be distracted. We will not be intimidated. We will not back down. Even against overwhelming odds, we will continue to speak truth to power and defend democracy and human rights in the country,”  Hontiveros said.

Aside from inciting to sedition, the CIDG also filed cyber libel, libel and obstruction of justice charges against the Vice President and 35 others including LP members and their staff, members of the opposition, Catholic bishops and priests critical of the Duterte administration, Free Legal Assistance Group lawyer Theodore Te, and Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) officials. 

FLAG fires back

The Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) also released a statement condemning the filing of criminal charges, saying Advincula was "a witness with absolutely no credibility"and calling on the Secretary of Justice to throw out the CIDG complaint.

The charges, they say, "are meant to silence and persecute human rights lawyers, opposition leaders, and the Church, and to send a message to anyone who dares to criticize this administration."

FLAG added, "The charges filed by the CIDG are designed to intimidate, harass and interfere with our lawyers, who are just doing their jobs as human rights defenders."

Silencing critics

Amnesty International Philippines said the Duterte government is using these sedition charges to silence its critics. 

“The timing and targets of this complaint bear all the hallmarks of judicial harassment. Coming so soon after the UN’s decision to probe the thousands of killings committed in the government’s brutal anti-drugs campaign, the authorities appear to be bringing false charges against known critics at home," said Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippines section director.

“The complaint illustrates how draconian laws such as sedition can be arbitrarily enforced to silence government critics. Unless the Philippine authorities can produce credible evidence in support of this vast list of suspects, the complaint should be dismissed out of hand,” he added. – Rappler.com

Mara Cepeda

Mara Cepeda writes about politics and women’s rights for Rappler. She covers the House of Representatives and the Office of the Vice President. Got tips? Send her an email at mara.cepeda@rappler.com or shoot her a tweet @maracepeda.

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