Prosecutors drop sedition charges against Philippine bishops

No evidence linking four prelates and two priests to an alleged plot to depose Duterte
Prosecutors drop sedition charges against Philippine bishops

Prosecutors have dropped sedition charges against four Filipino Catholic bishops. (Photo courtesy of CBCP News) 

Philippine prosecutors have exonerated four Catholic bishops charged with plotting to overthrow President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration.

The Justice Department dropped the charges, saying there was no evidence supporting police claims that the bishops intended to commit seditious acts.

The accused bishops were Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, Bishop Honesto Ongtioco and Bishop Teodoro Bacani, retired prelate of Novaliches.

Charges against Father Robert Reyes and La Salle Brother Armin Luistro were also dismissed.

Charges were, however, filed against Jesuit priest Albert Alejo and Divine Word priest Flaviano Villanueva and nine others for their involvement in the alleged plot to oust the president.

Bishop David of Kalookan said he was "both happy and sad" about the decision.

He said that while he welcomed the dropping of charges against him and the other church leaders, he was sad that prosecutors "found probable cause to indict the two priests."

"I still hope and pray that the charges against them will also be dismissed soon by the courts," he said in a post on social media. 

The bishops' conference earlier described the charges against the four Catholic bishops the priests, and several government critics as "beyond belief."

Father Reyes said the charges were "a desperate move to suppress dissent."

"The move is obviously meant to scare the hell out of these churchmen and eventually silence them," said Father Jerome Secillano, chairman of the public affairs office of the bishops' conference.

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

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

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

Advincula said the bishops were part of a "shadow group" behind a plot against the president.

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