MANILA— The arraignment of former senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Thursday over his alleged participation in the “Bikoy” narco-list videos was deferred after he questioned the conspiracy to commit sedition charge against him.
Trillanes appeared before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 138 Thursday morning to assert that he has filed a manifestation and motion adopting the motion to quash information filed by his co-accused Joel Saracho.
A motion to quash seeks to dismiss a criminal case based on defects in the information.
“Accused Trillanes, after reading the subject motion, believes with great faith that the subject motion raised valid legal issues which must be first addressed and/or resolved before the arraignment of the accused in the above-captioned case,” he said in his motion.
On October 15, actor and writer Joel Saracho challenged the conspiracy to commit sedition charge against him, claiming that the facts charged do not constitute an offense and that the information filed is “irreparably defective.”
The Department of Justice in February this year accused Trillanes, Saracho and 9 others of conspiring “to rise publicly and tumultuously, and to employ force, intimidation and other means outside of legal methods against Rodrigo Duterte” by spreading “malicious and scurrilous libels and fabricating evidence” against him and his family over their alleged involvement in a drug syndicate, supposedly through the “Ang Totoong Narco-list” videos which circulated online.
The purpose, according to the DOJ, was to “inflict an act of hate or revenge against the President of the Philippines and his immediate family members,” in violation of Art. 141 of the Revised Penal Code.
Around 30 other opposition figures including Vice President Leni Robredo, bishops, lawyers and other individuals were cleared of multiple raps initiated by Peter Joemel “Bikoy” Advincula, the same person who appeared on the video as a hooded figure who made the accusations against the President, only to turn around and implicate Trillanes and around 40 respondents.
Advincula, too, was among the 11 charged.
Saracho, who is accused of supposedly narrating the video, argued that the information or criminal charge did not include factual allegations as to how they supposedly conspired.
“Clearly, the Information is fatally lacking in several of the specific details required such as the particulars of the actual agreement between the accused to commit conspiracy to sedition, the minutiae of their planned public uprising, and the exact manner on how the accused finally decided to commit the planned crime of sedition,” he said.
“Ultimately, the Court and the accused must now conduct guesswork on the other important details left out by the prosecution in the information on the alleged conspiracy,” he added, pointing out that this violated the constitutional right of the accused to be informed of the nature of the cause of accusation against him.
Saracho also argued that the prosecution seems to be confused over what to charge them — whether sedition, conspiracy to commit sedition, inciting to sedition or libel.
The phrase “by circulating malicious and scurrilous libels and fabricating evidence against him and his family members” was lifted from another provision on inciting to sedition, he said.
As a consequence of the defective or deficient information, Saracho said the charge is void and the case should be dismissed.
“It is respectfully submitted that if a criminal case merits dismissal when the Information from which it arose is void for being insufficient pursuant to Pangilinan and Dela Cruz then, and with more reason, should the Information in this instant case be quashed and the criminal case dismissed at the very outset,” he said, referring to a 2011 and a 2002 Supreme Court decision.
“Moreover, the void information cannot be cured merely by amendment as the defect is not a mere remediable defect of form,” he added.
Because of Saracho’s and Trillanes’ motions, the court deferred their arraignment to January 21, 2021, according to Trillanes’ lawyer Rey Robles.
Meanwhile, Robles said the prosecutor was given 10 days to comment on the motions.
Except for Trillanes and Saracho, some of the other accused were present during Thursday’s hearing and pleaded “not guilty” to the charge, including priests Albert Alejo and Flaviano Villanueva.
Alejo supposedly coined the term “Project Sodoma,” a plot to supposedly topple the President, and allegedly assisted in the recording of the video as well as in providing accommodations to Advincula.
Both Alejo and Villanueva were allegedly part of the “technical” group in charge of brainstorming and planning strategies, together with Trillanes, according to the affidavit of Advincula.
The others, including Saracho, were supposedly part of the production team which produced the Bikoy videos.
ABS-CBN News earlier reported inconsistencies in the affidavits Advincula submitted before the PNP Criminal Investigation and Detection Group and the DOJ.
The sedition raps became controversial when ABS-CBN uncovered the involvement of the Office of the Solicitor General in the preparation of Advincula’s affidavit.
Advincula was one of the respondents before the DOJ at that time.
The OSG defended its involvement saying the PNP is one of its clients. It later on openly represented the CIDG in the preliminary investigation of the case.
Not present during Thursday’s arraignment was former anti-drug police officer Eduardo Acierto and an accused only known as “Monique.”
Advincula pleaded not guilty via videoconference according to his lawyer Larry Gadon, who earlier moved for an online hearing since Advincula is in Bicol. The court granted the motion.
The next setting is on February 11, 2021 for pre-trial and marking of evidence.