Inciting to sedition: Charges filed vs Trillanes over anti-Duterte speech

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – The Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office filed charges of inciting to sedition against Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, lawyer Manny Luna confirmed on Thursday, March 15.

The charges stem from the complaint filed in November 2017 by Luna and fellow lawyer from the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) Jacinto Paras, who is now labor undersecretary.

Senior Assistant City Prosecutor Joahna Gabatino-Lim, however, said the charge of conspiracy and proposal to commit to coup d’etat "cannot prosper" because the acts committed by the senator do not show he was pushing other people to seize power or overthrow the government.

Basis of the complaint: Trillanes delivered a privilege speech on October 3, 2017, accusing Duterte of having P2 billion worth of transactions in his bank account that were not reflected in his Statement of Assets, Liabilities, and Net Worth (SALN).

Duterte had earlier challenged anybody to shoot or overthrow him if they could find more than P40 million in his bank. 

Using Duterte’s rhetoric, Trillanes said in his speech that soldiers could now use M60 machine guns on the President because the amount of alleged undeclared wealth exceeded P40 million.

The VACC lawyers said in the complaint that the remark violated Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code, or inciting to sedition, particularly the 3rd definition of sedition under the law: “To inflict any act of hate or revenge upon the person or property of any public officer or employee.” 

Trillanes not backing down: Trillanes said the charges are clearly a form of harassment. He pointed out that the root cause of the complaint – a privilege speech in the Senate – makes him immune from suit.

“Hindi gaya ni Duterte na duwag humarap sa kaso, haharapin ko ito,” Trillanes said. (Unlike Duterte, who is too cowardly to face charges, I will face this one.)

He added: “Kung ang pakay nito ay takutin ako para umatras ako sa pagpuna kay Duterte, well, sabi ko nga dati pa, lalo pa akong ginaganahan tumayo laban sa mali at masama.” (If the intent of this is to make me back down in criticizing Duterte, well, as I’ve said before, this just encourages me to all the more stand up against the wrong and evil.) 

Prosecutor's findings: The resolution signed by Lim said Trillanes' intention was clearly “to sow the seeds of sedition in the mind of the people.”

“The fact remains that after respondent’s speech and disclosure of the alleged bank deposits of President Duterte, a nationwide petition-signing drive campaign was staged aimed at pressuring the President to open his financial records. Therefore, probable cause exists against respondent for violation of Article 142 of the Revised Penal Code, as amended,” it said. 

The speech, although delivered inside the Senate, was not covered by parliamentary immunity, the resolution said, because it was supposedly “purely an attack” on the President and members of his family, and not made in aid of legislation.

“In this case, the utterances made against the President and his family regarding bank transactions and bank deposits in huge amounts, thereby imputing commission of graft and corruption against them, is entirely not in aid of legislation,” the resolution read. 

Other charges: President Duterte's son, resigned Davao City vice mayor Paolo Duterte, and son-in-law, lawyer Manases Carpio, have filed a civil case against Trillanes at the Davao City Regional Trial Court (RTC). 

The VACC, meanwhile, has been filing complaints against known critics of the President. The group was unsuccessful in initiating an impeachment complaint against Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales (aunt of Duterte's son-in-law Manases), but succeeded in causing the suspension of Overall Deputy Ombudsman Arthur Carandang, who was the lead prober into Duterte’s wealth.

It was also the VACC that caused the impeachment of former elections chairman Andres Bautista, as well as the detention of Senator Leila de Lima.

Paras has been appointed labor undersecretary and VACC’s founding chairman Dante Jimenez is now head of the Presidential Anti-Corruption Commission. – with a report from Camille Elemia/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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