MANILA – Three Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) lawyers tagged in the sedition complaint against Vice President Leni Robredo and more than 30 other opposition figures have asked the Court of Appeals (CA) to stop the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) probe into the alleged ouster plot against President Rodrigo Duterte.
In a petition filed this week, FLAG lawyers Chel Diokno, Erin Tañada and Theodore Te asked the appellate court to issue a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order to stop DOJ prosecutors from continuing the preliminary investigation, which has been submitted for resolution.
Diokno and Tañada, Otso Diretso candidates who lost their senatorial bid in the May 2019 elections, have been accused of attending a March 4, 2019 meeting at the Ateneo de Manila University with Peter Joemel “Bikoy” Advincula, the hooded figure in the anti-Duterte “Ang Totoong Narco-list” videos.
Te is a former spokesperson of the Supreme Court who, Advincula claimed, met with him on May 2 to discuss the filing of a complaint against the President.
Diokno and Tañada denied ever meeting Advincula while Te said he met him on a different date and only to evaluate if he could be taken in by FLAG as a client. FLAG eventually rejected him.
The three have filed charges of perjury and offering false testimony against Advincula before the DOJ.
In their petition before the CA, the FLAG lawyers questioned Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra’s order creating a special panel of prosecutors to investigate the sedition raps.
Citing Republic Act 10071 or the Prosecution Service Act of 2010, they argued it is not Guevarra but the National Prosecution Service (NPS) which is primarily responsible for the conduct of a preliminary investigation.
They said the justice chief is limited only to a purely supervisory role except if the issue involves matters of national security, terrorism or a probable miscarriage of justice.
“[There is] neither allegation nor proof that the case below involves national security, terrorism, or a probable miscarriage of justice,” they argued.
They also faulted Guevarra for not determining the sufficiency of the letter-complaint filed by the Philippine National Police Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG), contrary to the Rules of Court.
“Had Secretary Guevarra complied with his duty, he would have seen that the CIDG letter-complaint was fatally flawed and should have dismissed it outright,” they said, citing several procedural and substantive deficiencies.
The FLAG lawyers have previously questioned the panel’s authority to conduct the preliminary investigation but the panel rejected this in an August 23 order. They now seek to annul that order.
In that same order, the panel also ruled that the CIDG complied with the formal requirements in filing the complaint and that it had no authority to disqualify the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG) from representing the CIDG.
The FLAG lawyers argued the absence of a proper complaint violated their right to due process as well as to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusations against them.
They noted that the letter-complaint, which was belatedly sworn to, failed to clearly allege what offenses were committed, how and by whom.
“The constitutional protection of due process, which, according to the Supreme Court, is available even at the preliminary investigation stage, requires the complainant to specify what offenses each respondent is sought to be charged with and the acts that each respondent allegedly committed constituting such offenses,” they said.
“This is the only way for them to intelligently defend themselves against unfair criminal indictments,” they added.
The FLAG lawyers also reiterated their position that the OSG should not be allowed to represent the CIDG on account of conflict of interest.
“The ruling of the Court in Urbano, that the OSG ‘participates in a criminal case only when the same has reached the appellate courts’ is absolute and unqualified. Therefore, the OSG is barred from participating in any pre-appellate stage of any criminal case, whether it does so as counsel for the respondent or complainant,” they said, noting that the OSG could even move for the acquittal of the accused, as People’s Tribune.
The FLAG lawyers’ petition follows a similar plea filed by former Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano and co-respondent Jonnell Sangalang with the CA last week, arguing essentially the same points.
Alejano is accused of attending the March 4 Ateneo meeting with other Otso Diretso senatorial candidates while Sangalang is alleged to be former senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s former aide who supposedly frequently met with Advincula about the purported ouster plot.
Advincula was the man in the viral videos that tagged Duterte’s family in the drug trade. He later recanted and accused opposition figures of plotting to oust the President.