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Philippines

Philippine bishops submit response to sedition charges

Prelates refuse to attend preliminary probe into charges of plotting to oust President Duterte

 Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Updated: August 09, 2019 09:30 AM GMT
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Philippine bishops submit response to sedition charges

A group of Filipinos recite the rosary outside the Department of Justice building in Manila on Aug. 9 to show their support for Catholic Church leaders accused of plotting to oust President Rodrigo Duterte. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

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Catholic bishops accused of plotting to oust Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte have submitted their response to sedition charges.

Although only retired Bishop Teodoro Bacani was seen filing an affidavit on Aug. 8, the Justice Department confirmed the other prelates had already submitted their replies to the allegations.

All filed their "counter-affidavits" the day before the start of preliminary investigations into a complaint filed by the Philippine National Police last month.

The other prelates charged were Bishop Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David of Kalookan and Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan.

Also accused were former education secretary Brother Armin Luistro, Divine Word priest Flaviano Villanueva, Jesuit priest Albert Alejo and Father Robert Reyes.

The charges stem from the release of a video that went viral on several social media platforms early this year that linked Duterte and his family to the illegal drug trade.

A certain Peter Joemel Advincula claimed on a video and at a media briefing early this year that Duterte’s son, Paolo Duterte, and presidential aide Bong Go were involved in drug syndicates.

Weeks later, however, Advincula, also known as Bikoy, was presented by the police to the media where he claimed the opposition and several church people were behind an alleged plot to oust the president.

In a statement submitted to the court, Advincula named the prelates as part of a "shadow group" that allegedly handles the financial, logistical, security and accommodation support for a plot against the president.

"I don't know who this Bikoy is. I’ve never met him, I’ve never talked to him, we don’t know each other, we have no communications with each other, so I have nothing to do with it," said Bishop Bacani. "There is no proof that we have any communication."  

While confirming all the accused bishops had filed their replies to the allegations, he said they will not attend the preliminary investigation at the Department of Justice.

Bishop David earlier denounced the filing of what he described were "unjust" and "atrocious" charges.

"What motivates the supposed witness to give false testimony is what in fact they should be investigating," said the prelate in a statement.

"The intention is obvious: pure harassment and an effort on the part of the [police] to do not their sworn duty but what they think will be pleasing to the higher authorities." 

The international pastoral aid organization of the Catholic Church, Aid to the Church In Need (ACN), issued a statement on Aug. 9 calling on Catholics to pray for the safety of the bishops.

Jonathan Luciano, director of ACN, said they were "saddened by the baseless accusations" against the bishops. "Such charges against them constitute persecution of the Church," he said.

"The bishops unjustly accused of sedition are exemplars of dedicated humble service to the wellbeing of Filipinos as well as to many humanitarian causes ... proof of their undeniable love for the country," added Luciano.

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