Philippine police filed sedition and other criminal complaints Thursday against the vice president, three opposition senators, four Roman Catholic bishops and other critics of President Rodrigo Duterte for allegedly plotting to destabilize his administration.
Vice President Leni Robredo and the others have long denied the allegations from a formerly detained crime suspect who alleged he plotted with them.
The Department of Justice said it received the complaints from the national police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.
“I will constitute the panel of investigating state prosecutors tomorrow,” Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told The Associated Press in a cellphone text message. “They may start serving subpoenas on the respondents next week.”
Unlike Duterte, Robredo does not have constitutional immunity, Guevarra said.
A legal group critical of Duterte, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said the allegations “smack of political persecution and shotgun repression on its face using again the legal system as a potent political weapon through the law of rulers.”
In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately. Robredo, who has long criticized Duterte over his bloody crackdown against illegal drugs and his offensive sexist remarks, is next in the line of succession if Duterte loses the presidency before his six-year term ends in 2022.
The allegations center on a formerly detained crime suspect, Peter Joemel Advincula, who alleged that he plotted with the accused to discredit Duterte, his family and other government officials by linking them to drug syndicates. With his face concealed, Advincula claimed he was the man who appeared in a series of video posted online that detailed the supposed links of Duterte, his children, close aides and other officials to illegal drugs.
When the police played down his claims and launched a search for him, Advincula suddenly surfaced and was presented in a news conference by top police officials where he denied the allegations he made against Duterte on video. He then made a new claim and implicated Robredo and other prominent Duterte critics in a plot to discredit the president and destabilize his administration.
Aside from Robredo, those implicated in the complaint included opposition senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Risa Hontiveros and Leila de Lima, seven opposition senatorial candidates who lost in the May elections, Catholic archbishops Socrates Villegas and Pablo David and a Catholic university president, Armin Luistro.
They were sued for alleged sedition, inciting to sedition, libel, harboring a criminal, obstruction of justice, a justice department statement said.
Duterte is known for his temper and expletives-laden outbursts against critics, especially those who have raised alarm over his deadly crackdown against illegal drugs, which have left at least 6,600 mostly petty drug suspects dead based on police records.
Last year, Supreme Court justices ousted the then-chief justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, after the government solicitor-general alleged that her appointment by Duterte’s predecessor was legally flawed and petitioned for her removal. Critics say the ousting undermined the court’s independence.
Another opposition senator, de Lima, has been detained for more than two years after being accused by Duterte of involvement in illegal drugs, a crime she has vehemently denied. A former human rights commission chief, de Lima investigated Duterte’s alleged role in extrajudicial killings in an anti-drug crackdown when he served as mayor of southern Davao city for years.
Duterte’s allies dominate the House of Representatives and won a majority in Senate elections in May.
Duterte opens the new Congress with his state of the nation address on Monday. The current Senate president is expected to hold his position and the House speaker is likely to be chosen by then. Those officeholders are next in the line of presidential succession after Robredo.