MANILA – Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV answered on Sunday allegations of unpaid billing and ties to Peter Joemel “Bikoy” Advincula lodged against him by the lawyer who filed a communication with the International Criminal Court against President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
In an open letter due to be published Monday, an advance copy of which was furnished to select media, Trillanes denied any involvement with Advincula and clarified he never had any lawyer-client relationship with lawyer Jude Sabio.
He, nevertheless, struck a reconciliatory tone with the once-trusted ally.
Sabio had earlier expressed willingness to testify against Trillanes in the sedition complaint the former senator is facing.
He is one of 3 witnesses the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) and the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) wanted to introduce in the sedition probe, but which the Department of Justice (DOJ) panel of prosecutors shot down Friday on the basis of OSG’s earlier statements that all its evidence and complaint are complete.
Sabio told ABS-CBN News he believes the former senator is “deeply involved” in the Bikoy issue because he supposedly tried to recruit him as lawyer for Advincula, after the “Ang Totoong Narco-list” videos circulated online in April.
He also admitted to having a falling out with Trillanes over the issue of a supposed unpaid P700,000 billing for his services to self-confessed Davao Death Squad member and whistleblower Edgar Matobato.
NO BIKOY INVOLVEMENT
In his letter, Trillanes pointed out that Sabio himself admitted in his interview to having no personal knowledge over the former senator’s ties to Advincula.
“Maliwanag sa interview mo na wala kang personal knowledge sa involvement ko kay Bikoy at hinala mo lang na malalim ito kasi sabi mo, kinukuha kita bilang abogado niya,” he said.
(It was clear in your interview that you don’t have personal knowledge of my involvement with Bikoy and that you only suspected my involvement is deep because I was getting you as his lawyer.)
“Assuming, for the sake of discussion na tama ang pagkaalala mo sa nangyari, sa interview mo mismo ay sinabi mo na ang sabi ko sa 'yo ay may ‘ibang handlers’ si Bikoy na nagpapahanap lang sila ng abogado niya. Hindi ba maliwanag 'yun na I'm not directly involved with him?” he added.
(Assuming, for the sake of discussion, that your recollection of what took place is correct, in your interview, you mentioned that I said Advincula had ‘other handlers’ and that they are looking for a lawyer for him. Isn’t that clear that I’m not directly involved with him?)
Up until Sabio’s claims, Advincula, the hooded figure in the “Ang Totoong Narco-list” videos, was the only individual linking Trillanes to “Project Sodoma,” the alleged plot to oust the President.
Trillanes had previously denied any involvement with Advincula and with the videos, saying Advincula failed to pass the vetting process.
Sabio, who became known for the ICC filing in The Hague, Netherlands, also told ABS-CBN News he accepted the case because he believed in the cause despite receiving only P30,000 pocket money.
Trillanes clarified that he covered the roundtrip plane tickets and hotel expenses. Sabio’s meals and transportation, meanwhile, were also covered by Filipinos in the area.
The former senator also denied he owes Sabio P700,000 in unpaid billing.
“Maliwanag mismo sa interview mo na hindi ako ang nagpagawa sa 'yo ng billing na 'yan at hindi rin ako ang kliyente mo. Si Edgar Matobato ang kliyente mo at maliwanag sa ating lahat na pro bono ang engagement niyo dahil hindi niya naman kayang magbayad,” he said.
(It’s clear from your interview that I was not the one who asked you to prepare the billing statement and I was not your client. Your client was Edgar Matobato at it was clear to us all that you had a pro bono engagement because he could not afford to pay.)
Sabio had claimed he considered the P50,000 to P100,000 amounts he used to receive from Trillanes as monthly retainers for his professional services in the cases of Matobato, Arturo Lascañas and the ICC communication.
But Trillanes said these amounts were “aid” and he has a team of lawyers led by Rey Robles.
Robles defended Trillanes in the rebellion and coup d’etat cases that the government sought to revive after President Duterte voided his amnesty last year, as well as in the ongoing sedition complaint.
In total, Trillanes is facing 17 cases and complaints pending before various courts and prosecutors offices across the country. All of them, just under the current administration.
“Bakit magiging retainer ang tawag mo dun eh hindi mo naman ako kailan man naging kliyente at wala ka namang nahawakang kaso ko ni isa?” Trillanes asked Sabio.
(Why would these be called retainer when I was never your client and your never handled a case for me?)
“Sa madaling salita, tulong ang binibigay sa 'yo buwan-buwan dahil nga naiintidihan ko ang kalagayan mo (In short, I was giving you aid monthly because I understood your plight),” he added, explaining that he even gave Sabio money for medicines, for payment of debt, rent, plane fare for Cagayan de Oro City, even expenses for Grab and for the mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) requirement for lawyers.
A warrant of arrest was issued against Sabio in 2018 over his non-compliance with MCLE, which was junked by the Court of Appeals in April this year.
According to Trillanes, he gave Sabio money for MCLE enrolment 5 times.
The aid, however, was cut off in June, after Trillanes left the Senate.
“Nung Abril, nagpauna na ako sa 'yo na dahil matatapos na ang termino ko in 2 months, hindi ko na kayang ipagpatuloy ang pagtulong ko sa 'yo after June 30. Kaya rin nag-advise ako sa 'yo na maghanap ka na ng trabaho. Hanggang sa mga panahon na 'yun, maayos pa rin ang pakikitungo natin sa isa't isa,” he said.
(I told you in April that since my term is ending in 2 months, I won’t be able to continue extending support after June 30. I advised you to look for work. Up until then, we treated each other well.)
“Sana kung humingi ka na lang ng tulong, kahit mahirap ang sitwasyon, magagawan naman ng paraan para matulungan ka. Kaso pinagmumura mo na kami agad at naniningil ng mga pera na wala naman talagang pagkakautang,” he said.
(If only you asked for our help, despite the difficult situation, we could have done something to help you. But you cursed us and you demanded for money we do now owe you.)
In his Facebook posts, Sabio had been criticizing Trillanes openly, at some point, calling him “traidor” or traitor.
The former senator acknowledged this at the start of his open letter but he said the publication of Sabio’s statements in the media prompted him to issue the open letter to him.
Sabio released an article on the Mindanao Gold Star Daily on Monday, which Rigoberto Tiglao reprinted in his column on the Manila Times on Friday, claiming Trillanes as the “brains” behind Bikoy. But Sabio made no such claim in his column and in his interview with ABS-CBN.
Despite the public spat, Trillanes expressed openness to reconciliation and encouraged Sabio not to lose hope.
“Alam mo na maayos kitang trinato at maayos ang ating samahan nung nakaraang mahigit dalawang taon. Panay pa ang papuri at pakikiisa mo noon sa pakikipaglabanan natin para sa tama. Kahit walang pera ang oposisyon, tibay ng loob at paninindigan naman ang capital natin sa labang ito,” he said.
(You know that I treated you well and we had a good relationship in the past more than two years. You even praised and expressed solidarity in our fight for what is right. Even if the opposition has no money, we have our will and principles as our capital in this fight.)
“[N]aiintindihan ko naman kung pinanghihinaan ka na ng loob sa labang ito. Pero kapit lang. Tiwala lang. Dasal lang. Sayang ang mga naiambag mo sa laban para sa mga karapatang pantao. Hayaan mo, balang araw sa malapit-lapit na hinaharap ay lilipas din itong mga pagsubok na 'to at magkikita tayong muli at masayang babalikan natin ang mga mabigat na yugtong ito na magaan ang dibdib at may matiwasay na pagiisip sa pagkakaalam na nakapaglingkod tayo sa Inang Bayan,” he added.
And despite Sabio’s openness to testify against him, Trillanes, in a text message to ABS-CBN News, said: “I don’t think bumaliktad na siya at this point. Nagtatampo lang siguro.”