Defense says this 'significantly weakens' case
MANILA — Peter Joemel Advincula, the man who identified himself as “Bikoy” in the viral “Ang Totoong Narco-list” videos in 2019, has refused to testify in the conspiracy to commit sedition case against former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV and 10 others pending before a Quezon City court.
Advincula, who is both accused and listed as witness in the case, was scheduled to be presented before the Quezon City Metropolitan Trial Court Branch 138 on Tuesday morning to testify about the alleged plot to oust then-President Rodrigo Duterte.
However, Deputy State Prosecutor Olivia Torrevillas told Judge Kristine Grace Suarez in open court that Advincula will no longer testify.
“Your honor, the prosecution makes clear that we will not be presenting him as our witness either as state witness or an ordinary witness,” she said.
Torrevillas explained that Advincula had initially requested to testify as state witness but the prosecution had reservations if he would qualify because of an earlier conviction for large scale illegal recruitment.
Under the Witness Protection, Security and Benefit Act, a state witness must not have been convicted of any crime involving moral turpitude, or offenses involving acts contrary to justice, modesty or good morals.
“I believe we made this very clear from the beginning that there was no promise or commitment on the part of the State that the witness here, accused Advincula, will be presented as state witness,” Torrevillas said.
“And for 3 meetings your honor, though we agreed, the State and the public defender, agreed to present him as a state witness, eventually, it was the accused who refused to testify as state witness for reasons known only to him, your honor,” she added.
Advincula’s lawyer from the Public Attorney’s Office, Ma. Lawreine Francesca Chua Cheng, confirmed her client’s position.
“Yes, your honor. I confirm the manifestation of the public prosecutor that the accused… he does not intend to be an ordinary nor a state witness,” she said.
Advincula, who attended Tuesday’s hearing via videoconference, merely said, “Yes, your honor” and was no longer asked why he decided not to testify.
Because of Advincula’s refusal to testify, Torrevillas manifested the prosecution is resting its case, after presenting only 3 police investigators as witnesses.
She asked for 5 days to file the formal offer of evidence, which summarizes all the evidence the prosecution has presented in court so far.
WHAT HAPPENED BEFORE
Advincula starred in a video series accusing then-President Rodrigo Duterte and his family of involvement in the illegal drug trade.
The series was released just before the 2019 midterm polls but Advincula would later on accuse then-Vice President Leni Robredo, Trillanes and some members of the opposition of plotting to oust Duterte through the use of the video series.
In February 2020, DOJ prosecutors filed a conspiracy to commit sedition charge against Trillanes and Advincula while Robredo and around 30 others were cleared of the raps.
Accused along with Trillanes and Advincula were Joel Saracho, Boom Enriquez, Yolanda Ong, Vicente Romano III, Fr. Albert Alejo, Fr. Flaviano Villanueva, Jonnel Sangalang, Eduardo Acierto, and an alias Monique.
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.
‘SIGNIFICANTLY WEAKENS’ PROSECUTION CASE
Trillanes’ counsel, Rey Robles, told ABS-CBN News Advincula’s refusal to testify “significantly weakens” the prosecution case against the accused.
“As far as I’m concerned, the entire case of the prosecution revolved around his testimony. Kasi he was the only one who had supposedly personal knowledge of the alleged conspiracy. Nobody else in the roster of the witnesses of the prosecution had that knowledge,” he said.
The 3 police investigators who testified, according to Robles, do not have personal knowledge about the supposed ouster plot.
Advincula’s refusal to testify came 4 months after a Quezon City regional trial court junked the contents of the hard drive and cellular phone which were presented during the trial before QC MeTC Branch 138.
Yolanda Ong, one of the accused, had questioned the QC MeTC Branch 138’s refusal to junk the hard drive and cellular phone which were obtained without a warrant.
Quezon City RTC Branch 223 Judge Caridad Walse-Lutero ruled that the contents of the hard drive and the cellular phone are “fruits of the poisonous tree” which could not be used as evidence against the accused.
“Considering that no warrant was validly issued for the PNP to conduct a forensic examination of the computer data storage medium particularly the cellular phone and hard drive, both devices cannot be used as evidence against the herein petitioner,” she said.
The prosecution, the court said, was also not able to produce a notarized letter executed by Advincula giving consent to the examination.
And even if there was such a notarized letter from Advincula, the devices were obtained and examined without the consent of the other accused, it added.
“Police officers are expected to follow the laws and the rules. There should be no short-cuts. Expediency is never an excuse to disregard Constitutional rights as well as provisions of the laws and rules,” the court said.
For Robles, the exclusion of the two devices is significant.
“The thing is, it significantly reduced even ‘yung volume and quality of evidence kasi maraming nawala. Kasi there were thousands of documents in those hard drive and in the phone, which, in effect, were not admitted,” he said.
Robles however made clear it is ultimately the court that will decide whether the prosecution still has a strong case against the accused.
“We will review the evidence to see kung inabot ang threshold to allow the prosecution to proceed or if there is a reason to ask the court to dismiss the case,” referring to the possible filing of a demurrer to evidence — essentially a motion to dismiss based on insufficiency of prosecution evidence.
Aside from the conspiracy to commit sedition case, Advincula is also facing perjury over his false claims against Free Legal Assistance Group members whom he initially implicated in the sedition cases and murder raps over the killing of a councilor in Albay and 2 others.
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 openly represented the CIDG in the preliminary investigation of the case.