June 22, 2018, 1:21 am
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Aquino, Trillanes cleared on treason raps

THE Office of the Ombudsman has thrown out criminal complaints for treason and espionage filed last year against former President Benigno Aquino III and Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV in connection to backchannel talks with China over disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea.

With the individual culpability of both Aquino and Trillanes in both imputed offenses unsupported by credible proof, investigators said the theory of conspiracy between the respondents must likewise fail.

In a 17-page resolution penned by Graft Investigation and Prosecution Officer Leilani Tagulao-Marquez dated June 7, 2017, the Ombudsman declared that it found no probable cause to indict the two respondents.

Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales approved the resolution based on the recommendations of Assistant Ombudsman Marilou Ancheta-Mojica and Preliminary Investigation and Administrative Adjudication Bureau (PIAB) director Nellie Boguen-Golez.

Complainants former PNP chief Roberto Lastimoso, educator Enrico Sampang, former Cultural Communities Sectoral Rep. Ronald Adamat, defeated congressional bet Dioscoro Esteban Jr. and retired regional trial court judge and former Elections Commissioner Moslemen Macarambon accused Trillanes of meddling in the country’s foreign affairs and placing national security at risk in alleged conspiracy with then President Aquino, who authorized his backchannel mission.

They said Trillanes gave out confidential information about the country’s position in the West Philippine Sea and peddled misinformation that emboldened the Chinese “to commit aggressive posturing.”

Cited as basis for the allegation was the published commentary of former senator Juan Ponce Enrile supposedly based on the scribbled notes of Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady.

The Ombudsman said none of the modes of treason defined under Article 114 of the Revised Penal Code – levying war against the government or adhering to the enemies of the Philippines, giving them aid or comfort - apply in the case of Aquino and Trillanes.

The first involves assembling an armed group against the country while the second ground is defined as extending assistance to the enemies of the State.

“Treason is a war crime. It is not an all-time offense. It cannot be committed in peacetime. While there is peace, there are no traitors. There must be actual hostilities,” the Ombudsman pointed out.

It said backchannel talks between Trillanes and a Chinese representative “is an inherent presidential power,” hence, cannot be considered as “giving aid to the enemy” as it was a means to prevent an escalation of a territorial dispute.

“While there was an on-going territorial dispute over certain areas in the West Philippine Sea between China and the Philippines, this does not make China an enemy of our country. The Philippines still has bilateral and diplomatic relations with China,” it pointed out.

Likewise, investigators pointed out that the timeline cited in the complaint was wrong.

The complainants blamed Trillanes for emboldening China, but the Ombudsman noted that as early as May 23, 2011 news reports have already shown Chinese activities in six reefs that are part of the Kalayaan Island Group.

The backchannel talks between Trillanes and his Chinese counterpart only began in May 2012 or a full year later.

On the second allegation, the Ombudsman explained that “gathering, transmitting, or losing information respecting the national defense” for purposes injurious to the interests of the Philippines and to the advantage of a foreign nation must be established to support an indictment for espionage.

In this requirement, the so-called Brady Notes fall short.

“The claims and assertion in the so-called Brady Notes are considered hearsay and, thus, should not be given evidentiary weight. These insufficiently prove that Sen. Trillanes disclosed to the Chinese vital information related to the defense system of the Philippines,” the Ombudsman declared.

Trillanes said: “The decision proves our point from the very start that the case was merely filed to harass and tarnish my reputation.”

“This is what happens when your political opponents start to believe their own propaganda. But no matter how they twist the facts, in the end, the truth will always come out,” he said.

At the last leg of the 2016 presidential campaign, Martin Diño, then Duterte’s national campaign manager, announced the filing of treason and espionage charges against Aquino and Trillanes. – With JP Lopez
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