Weaponizing Bikoy against the opposition

When the series of Bikoy videos came out sometime in April of 2019, a month before the midterm elections accusing the president, his son and closed as alleged members of drug syndicates, the reaction by the Justice Secretary was to call for an investigation, not on the contents of the videos, but on the people behind them. Soon after, a certain Rodel Jaime, the alleged video sharer, was arrested on the power of a search warrant. The Justice Secretary justified the arrest as one incidental to a lawful search. Any lawyer worth his salt will know that an “arrest incidental to a lawful search” is a strange animal. Rather, what is recognized by the Rules of Court is a “search incidental to a lawful arrest.” Anyway, without delving on the legal nuances of the arrest, the DOJ initially filed a complaint for cyber libel that was later amended to a complaint for inciting to sedition in relation to Section 6 of the Cybercrime Law.

A few days before the elections, the man formerly only known as “Bikoy” surfaced and identified himself as Peter Joemel Advincula. Before the media, he reiterated his claims that presidential son Paolo Duterte and senatorial candidate Christopher “Bong” Go, among others, are part of a drug syndicate operating in Misibis Bay in Albay. In unison, government officials were quick to dismiss the accusations and cast doubt on the credibility of Bikoy. To Senate Speaker Sotto, Bikoy had previously approached him in 2016 with information linking former president Benigno Aquino III and other officials to drug syndicates. To Philippine National Police (PNP) chief General Oscar Albayalde, he is nothing more than an “information peddler.” The Justice Secretary threatened to file charges if he failed to present evidence to substantiate his claims. In the meantime, no attempt was made to investigate and ferret out the truth behind Advincula’s allegations.

Weeks later, Advincula resurfaced and made a stunning volte-face, this time training his accusing fingers to the opposition. When previously dismissed as an information peddler, Advincula dramatically was restored from the good graces of the PNP, which hosted a press conference for him and expressed its willingness to investigate the allegations against the opposition. In no time, the PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) filed a slew of charges against the opposition including sedition, inciting to sedition, cyber libel, libel, estafa, harboring a criminal and obstruction of justice.

Included in the complaint as respondents, and summoned to the Department of Justice this Friday for preliminary investigation, are Vice President Robredo, priests and bishops, opposition Senators Leila de Lima and Risa Hontiveros; former senators Antonio Trillanes IV and Bam Aquino; and Otso Diretso senatorial candidates Chel Diokno, Florin Hilbay, Gary Alejano, Romulo Macalintal, Samira Gutoc and Erin Tañada. Suddenly, it was the turn of the opposition and perceived administration critics to question the credibility of Advincula.

On the other hand, the PNP Chief, the Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, Senate President Tito Sotto and other supporters of Duterte who previously were so vociferous in condemning Bikoy as a fake or as an information peddler are either silent or are now pushing for the filing of sedition charges against the so-named individuals.

Curiously, when the videos on the supposed link of the president’s family and close allies in drug trade first came out, no one in government wanted to shed light on the truth, but when the tables were turned against the opposition, everybody in the government had a change of heart and are now eager to find out the truth behind the Ang Totoong Narcolist videos. This time no discernible whimper came from the government side doubting the credibility of Bikoy. In fact, the government has become so convinced that Advincula is telling the truth such that the Office of the Solicitor, while admitting to be lawyering for the PNP-CIDG and not Advincula, is so gracious to even assist the accuser in the preparation of his affidavit.

Amid the renewed calls to impeach VP Robredo, one cannot but suspect that the charges against her are meant to gag the organized opposition, which she heads. No amount of dissembling and smokescreen can conceal the orchestrated attempts by the Duterte regime to silence any and all who criticize the acts of the president and the policies of his government.

Knowing Robredro, I am sure she is not involved in any attempt to undermine the Duterte administration. She is certainly not that stupid, as she has said, to meet with a convicted swindler. Being from Naga herself, where Advincula is notorious, she would have avoided him like a plague. If I were the Vice-President, I would take this charge seriously and not be complacent.

The same is true for the bishops and religious leaders accused by Bikoy. As Archbishop Soc Rodrigo pointed out in the mass for Cory Aquino last Thursday, he has not even violated a traffic rule all his life, how could he even think of committing inciting to sedition. Bishop Pablo David and Brother Armin Luistro likewise are the most law-abiding people I know in this country. If the priests being accused of providing sanctuary to Advincula in fact did so, that is not a crime as this is their duty.

Including our colleagues from the Integrated Bar of the Philippines and the Free Legal Assistance Group for meeting a prospective client, is ludicrous,

In any case, Advincula is not a credible witness. In fact, even before he did his about face, I have been counseling those who were sharing the Bikoy videos with glee that they were clearly embellished accounts and clearly propaganda that were likely not based on truth. He was lying about the Dutertes. He is lying now about Robredo et al.

Senators Leila de Lima and Sonny Trillanes, Chief Justice Sereno, the Catholic Church, Human Rights advocates, the Commission on Human Rights, Maria Ressa and Rappler, the United Nations, European Union, and now Robredo and the members of the political opposition share one thing in common. They all have been subjected to harassment one way or another if only to intimidate them into silence. In fact, even Senator Gordon, a known Duterte ally, was not spared when the president castigated him with his colorful language for daring to criticize Duterte’s penchant of appointing retired military generals in government. Every time a critic rears his or her head, the whole state machinery is set in motion to roll over that head to keep him or her silent.

The reality here is that Bikoy has been weaponized against Duterte critics. They will not stop until the opposition is silenced. I do not consider myself as part of the opposition, but I stand with all those accused by Bikoy.

One pundit once said, “When truth is replaced by silence, the silence is a lie.” In the same manner, when men and women are kept from criticizing a democratic government, democracy becomes an illusion. Winston Churchill so aptly praised the virtues of criticism in government when he said – “Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body; it calls attention to the development of an unhealthy state of things. If it is heeded in time, danger may be averted; if it is suppressed, a fatal distemper may develop.”

On Friday, August 9, lets all go to the Department of Justice and support the good men and women accused by Bikoy. I do not exaggerate that this is a season when we must all recall Martin Niemöller’s warning against the Nazi menace: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out— Because I was not a Jew.Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”


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