MANILA – The lawyer who filed a communication with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against President Rodrigo Duterte and his war on drugs is open to testifying against former senator Antonio Trillanes IV in the sedition complaint against opposition figures pending before the Department of Justice.
“If forced to do so by process, how can I refuse in the interest of truth?,” he told ABS-CBN News by text message Friday, shortly after the Office of the Solicitor General, representing the Philippine National Police (PNP) Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG), failed to convince prosecutors to allow them to introduce new witnesses.
The OSG had urged the panel to subpoena Sabio over an article which appeared on the Mindanao Gold Star Daily and reprinted on the Manila Times Friday where Sabio claimed the former senator, through his staff, tried to recruit him to lawyer for Peter Joemel “Bikoy” Advincula in April this year.
Advincula is the hooded figure in the viral “Ang Totoong Narco-list” videos which circulated online, accusing the President's family of drug involvement.
He later retracted and said opposition figures had put him up to it as part of an ouster plot.
WHAT SABIO KNOWS
Sabio spoke to ABS-CBN News two days before the article first came out.
He said Trillanes’ staff first sent him a Viber message on April 23 recruiting him to lawyer for Advincula.
“Ang sabi niya, mayroon daw ibang handlers but i-recommend daw ako na mag-abogado kasi magsasampa ng kaso sa Ombudsman,” he said.
(He said there are other handlers but he would recommend me as lawyer in the case that will be filed with the Office of the Ombudsman.)
But the plan did not push through because Sabio said he was offended that Trillanes’ staff had to ask about his license.
A Cavite court had issued a warrant of arrest against Sabio in March last year over his non-compliance with the mandatory continuing legal education (MCLE) requirement, which the Court of Appeals eventually junked in April this year.
Sabio said he tried to explain to Trillanes’ staff that the MCLE requirement had nothing to do with his license, but the exchange, he said, turned nasty.
To patch things up, Sabio said Trillanes asked for a meeting on April 29 at a hotel in Quezon City, where Sabio and his common-law wife allegedly warned the then senator not to push through with Advincula.
“Sir, huwag mong ituloy 'yan. Babagsak ka niyan. Di ka na makakabangon,” Sabio quoted his common-law wife Jo Ann, as telling Trillanes.
(Sir, please don’t push through with that. He will lead to your downfall. You won’t be able to recover.)
But at the end of the meeting, Trillanes allegedly only responded, “Susundan na lang ang susunod na kabanata (Watch out for the next chapter).”
A few days later, on May 6, Advincula showed up at the office of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines in Ortigas to identify himself to the media as “Bikoy” and accuse the President of involvement in illegal drugs, only to turn around a few weeks later and accuse the opposition of plotting to oust Duterte.
In July, the PNP-CIDG filed sedition and other complaints against Trillanes, Vice President Leni Robredo and more than 30 others, relying solely on Advincula’s affidavit.
Sabio is the first person so far to tie Trillanes to Advincula.
Asked if he has personal knowledge of Trillanes’ involvement in the alleged ouster plot, Sabio said he has none but he believes the former senator is deeply involved.
“Ang impression ko at that time, dahil kinukuha niya akong abogado, it only means na malalim ang involvement niya sa Bikoy na ‘yan,” he said.
(My impression at that time, because he was trying to recruit me as lawyer, it only means he has a deep involvement in the Bikoy issue.)
“Kaya sinabihan ko siya na huwag mo nang pasukan 'yan sir, primarily because, una, ang financial resources. Number 2, ang problema doon, ang kutob ko, si Bikoy is a trap,” he added.
(That’s why I told him not to get involved primarily because of lack of financial resources and number 2, I felt Bikoy is a trap.)
What he did not mention in his column but which he extensively discussed with ABS-CBN News Saturday was his demand for payment of a P700,000 billing for the services he rendered to whistleblower Edgar Matobato, the self-confessed member of the Davao Death Squad who had linked Duterte to extrajudicial killings in Davao.
Sabio said Jesuit priest Albert Alejo approached him through Facebook after reading his articles on a national daily in defense of Matobato, shortly after the latter testified in the Senate in September 2016.
He was supposedly asked to go to Manila where he was introduced to Trillanes and Sen. Leila de Lima. De Lima supposedly asked him to draft Matobato’s statement and file the complaint with the Ombudsman while Trillanes allegedly oversaw his handling of Matobato’s criminal cases in Davao.
Alejo is one of the respondents named in the sedition complaint. Advincula accused him of crafting the terms “Bikoy” and “Project Sodoma.”
Alejo, Trillanes and Sabio himself are co-respondents in a kidnapping with serious illegal detention complaint recently filed by Davao-based businesswoman Guillermina Barrido alias Guillermina Arcillas with the DOJ.
Sabio admitted there was no discussion with Trillanes and De Lima about payment for his legal services to Matobato but Alejo supposedly asked him to prepare a billing.
In a copy of his billing furnished ABS-CBN News, Sabio is asking for P656,000 in total fees for handling illegal possession of firearms, frustrated murder, kidnapping and other cases against Matobato.
These fees include acceptance fees, legal fees for actual work, drafting of judicial affidavits and a monthly retainer of P20,000.
Sabio said he felt deceived when Alejo allegedly told him in early 2017, shortly after preparing the billing, that there was no arrangement for his professional fees.
“Hindi ako nagsabi na gumawa ako ng billing. Sila ang nagsabi gumawa ako ng billing and then sasabihin nila ngayon na walang usapang bayad. Di ba? E anong klaseng billing 'yan kung sasabihin mo later on na walang usapang bayad,” he said.
(I didn’t say that I will make a billing statement. They asked me to draft one and then they’ll tell me there’s no arrangement for my professional fees? What kind of billing is that?)
Sabio said he brought up the issue of his billing with Trillanes during their April 29 meeting this year and later, with the camp of De Lima, but it has yet to be resolved.
He said he did not make an issue out of the billing for a long time because ever since he acted as lawyer for Matobato in late 2016, he has been receiving amounts ranging from P50,000 to P100,000 from Trillanes on a monthly basis.
He said he considered these retainer fees for his professional services which was, however, cut off when Trillanes ceased to be a senator by end of June this year, making his claim for the unpaid billing urgent.
“Kailangan ko 'yung pera, P700,000, para maka-survive ako (I need the money, P700,000, for me to survive),” he said, explaining that his professional practice took a hit after filing the ICC communication in April 2017.
He said he was not allowed to go back to his hometown in Cagayan de Oro City because of martial law currently in effect in Mindanao.
He also felt the warrant of arrest supposedly for his non-compliance with the MCLE requirement was issued because of the ICC filing.
“It’s a matter of security, why? Because how can I be secure if I’m hungry? Na wala akong means of survival kaya gagawa ako ng paraan na maghanapbuhay ako (I have no means of survival that’s why I’m trying to look for way to make a living.) I’ll be exposed to danger,” he said.
“Ito ring isang paraan na ma-dispel ko pag-iisip ng ibang mga tao na ako ay isang legal mercenary, na kumita ako ng P100 million dahil sa ICC case na 'yan which is blatantly false. Wala akong kinitang pera na P100 million sa ICC case na 'yan,” he added, revealing that Trillanes ordered him to file the communication with the ICC in The Hague, Netherlands with only P30,000 as pocket money.
(This is also one way to dispel the views of some people that I am a legal mercenary, that I earned P100 million because of the ICC case which is blatantly false. I never earned P100 million in that ICC case.)
TRILLANES: NO PROFESSIONAL ENGAGEMENT WITH SABIO
In an earlier interview with ABS-CBN News, Trillanes denied having any professional engagement with Sabio.
“Since nag-file nga siya noong sa ICC and since nag-file kami ng supplemental communication sa ICC in support of the communication na finile niya, so ganun ang relationship namin. We recognize 'yung kanyang contribution sa ICC case kaya ano naman, sa ganung level ang aming pagsasama,” he said.
(Since he filed the communication with the ICC and since we filed a supplemental communication in support of the communication he filed, that’s our relationship. We recognize his contribution in the ICC case, that’s the level of relationship we have.)
“Wala naman kaming professional engagement pero natutulungan siya, natutulungan siya despite everything,” the former senator added.
(We don’t have any professional engagement but he has been receiving help. He has been receiving help despite everything.)
SABIO: RETAINER, NOT AID
But Sabio disputed Trillanes’ characterization of the monthly amounts he was getting as a form of “aid,” insisting they are monthly retainers because he rendered professional services for Matobato, death squad whistleblower Arturo Lascañas and the ICC filing.
“Maging sosyal naman nang konti. Sabihin naman na retainer 'yun kasi nakakainsulto 'yan sa legal profession e. Saan ka ba nakakita na abogado, hahawak ng kaso, tapos sasabihin ng abogado sa kliyente na hawakan ko 'yang kaso mo pero tulungan mo na lang ako. Walang ganun,” he said.
(Let’s call it a retainer because it’s insulting to the legal profession. Where will you find a lawyer handling a case, then the lawyer tells the client I will handle your case, just help me. There’s no such thing!)
But Sabio was quick to clarify, he is not doing this for the money.
“Hindi ito question of money eh (This is not a question of money). This is more a question of honor and dignity. Ako member ako ng (I am a member of the) legal profession, I’m a professional. 'Pag pina-billing mo ako, bayaran mo (If you ask me to prepare a billing statement, you pay me),” he said.
ICC FILING NOT POLITICALLY-MOTIVATED
He also insisted the filing of the ICC communication against the President was not politically-motivated.
“Abogado ako, naniwala ako sa kaso, ginawa ko 'yung trabaho ko. Di naman ako member ng LP (Liberal Party), di rin ako member ng Magdalo. Nagkataon lang na naniwala ako kay Matobato at nagkapareho ang prinsipyo namin ni Sen. De Lima at Sen. Trillanes,” he said, referring to the opposition party and its allied Trillanes-led group.
(I’m a lawyer, I believe in the case, I did my job. I’m not a member of LP (Liberal Party), I’m also not a member of Magdalo. It just so happened that I believed in Matobato and my principles aligned with those of Sens. De Lima and Trillanes.)
And despite the bad blood between him and Trillanes, he said he does not consider him his enemy and that he continues to believe in the ICC filing.
“Hindi ko kinakalaban 'yan si Sen. Trillanes. Kahit nangyari ito sa amin ni Sen. Trillanes, kay Sen. De Lima, tuloy pa rin ang paniniwala ko sa kaso sa ICC at kung ako lang may paraan, gusto ko maituloy yan at kung pwede sana, gusto ko nga sana ma-control ko si Matobato at Lascañas para maituloy ko 'yung kaso sa ICC,” he said.
(I am not turning against ex-Sen. Trillanes. Whatever happens between me, ex-Sen. Trillanes, Sen. De Lima, I am firm in my belief in the ICC case and if I have my way, I want to continue and handle Matobato and Lascañas myself.)
Sabio recognized the possible repercussions of him testifying against the former senator.
“Kung ganun ang magiging effect niyan na madidiin siya, tanggapin niya 'yun. Dahil alam niya deep in his mind na kasali siya d'yan sa Bikoy,” he said.
(If the effect is that he will be further implicated, he should accept it. Because he knows deep in his mind he is involved in the Bikoy issue.)
ABS-CBN News reached out to the camps of Trillanes, De Lima and Alejo about Sabio’s allegations but they have so far not issued any statement.