Sedition and other criminal complaints launched against Philippine Vice President Leni Robredo and dozens of others for allegedly plotting to destabilise the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte are judicial harassment and an attempt to silence government critics, Amnesty International said on Friday.
Philippines police filed the complaints against the vice president, three opposition senators, four Roman Catholic bishops and other critics on Thursday, a week after the United Nations voted to investigate the thousands of deaths under Duterte’s so-called “war on drugs”.
“The timing and targets of this complaint bear all the hallmarks of judicial harassment,” Butch Alano, Amnesty International Philippines Section director, said in a statement, noting the UN decision.
“The complaint illustrates how draconian laws such as sedition can be arbitrarily enforced to silence government critics. Unless the authorities can produce credible evidence in support of this vast list of suspects, the complaint should be dismissed out of hand.”
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told The Associated Press on Thursday that an investigating panel of prosecutors would be constituted on Friday and could start serving subpoenas on the respondents next week.
Unlike Duterte, Robredo does not have constitutional immunity, Guevarra pointed out.
A legal group critical of Duterte, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said the allegations “smack of political persecution and shotgun repression.”
In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately.
Robredo, who has long criticised Duterte over his brutal crackdown on drugs as well as his offensive and sexist remarks, would take over as president if Duterte loses the job before his six-year term ends in 2022.
The allegations centre on a formerly arrested 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 videos 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 destabilise his administration.
Apart 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, harbouring a criminal and obstruction of justice, a justice department statement said.
Duterte is known for his temper and expletive-laden outbursts against critics, especially those who question the drug crackdown. On Thursday, police said 5,526 had been killed as a result of the campaign by the end of June, considerably less than the 6,600 announced for the end of May.
Last year, Supreme Court justices overthrew 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 removal undermined the court’s independence.
Another opposition senator, de Lima, has been held for more than two years after being accused by Duterte of involvement in illegal drugs, an allegation she has vehemently denied.
Then-human rights commission chief, de Lima investigated Duterte’s alleged role in extrajudicial killings in an anti-drug crackdown when he was mayor of southern Davao city.
Duterte’s allies dominate the House of Representatives and won a majority in Senate elections in May.
The president 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.