By Beting Laygo Dolor
It is not Vice-president Leni Robredo and her 34 co-accused in the inciting to sedition case filed by the Philippine National Police (PNP) who face long odds. It is the government which can only present one witness whose credibility had earlier been questioned by the PNP itself.
The first hearing of the case was held last August 9 with the government team appearing overmatched.
As a first step in her defense, Robredo asked the Department of Justice to compel the PNP to produce all the evidence they claim to possess in support of the Advincula affidavit that incriminates the Vice-president in the distribution of a series of videos that points to members of President Rodrigo Duterte’s family in the illegal drugs trade.
Among Robredo’s co-accused are Chel Diokno, formerly dean of De La Salle University’s college of law; Romulo Makalintal, considered the Philippines’ top election lawyer; and various officers of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines.
Among the other accused lawyers are Christian Monsod, former chairman of the Commission on Elections and one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution.
Human rights lawyer Arno Sanidad of the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) who has previously represented both military rebels and suspected communist leaders in the past was also on hand to represent Diokno.
Considered the biggest “star” of the defense panel is former Sen. Rene Saguisag, who famously refused an appointment to the Supreme Court from former President Cory Aquino. Had he accepted the appointment, Saguisag would have ended up as Chief Justice of the SC.
Saguisag questioned why the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) was representing the PNP’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group which filed the complaint. The OSG, he said, “should be the tribune of the people” and not its lapdog.
Solicitor Gen. Jose Calida reacted sharply to what he described as “gutter talk” from Saguisag. The former Senator “should know better,” he said.
Sanidad had also questioned the OSG’s mandate to take part in the criminal case as lead counsel of the PNP. Sanidad insisted that the OSG had no such authority.
As a result, the Justice department required the OSG to explain its position within five working days.
Sanidad’s FLAG which also represents co-accused Erin Tanada, Theodore Te and Phillip Sawali also showed that the Department of Justice had no legal basis to form the panel investigating the inciting to sedition case against the vice-president and company.
Such a panel can only be formed in cases involving acts of terrorism, said FLAG lawyers, citing Republic Act 10071 or the Prosecution Service Act.
Legal observers had cited an earlier statement from PNP Chief Albayalde Oscar who had questioned the credibility of Peter Joemel Advincula alias Bikoy who appeared in the videos that came out in social media at the height of the election campaign period earlier this year.
Why, they ask, did Advincula suddenly become a credible witness after retracting his statements against the Duterte family and instead accused the opposition Liberal Party of masterminding the videos?
Another weakness in the case filed by the PNP was its claim to have “other evidence” implicating Robredo and company, according to the Vice-president’s lawyers.
Until her lawyers are shown that evidence, Robredo said she will not respond to the sedition complaint.
Among the other co-accused with Robredo in the case are leaders of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines, as well as former Education secretary and De La Salle University President Bro. Armin Luistro. Also included are the entire Otso Derecho senate slate of the LP, with the exception of former vice-president Mar Roxas.