Tuesday, September 26, 2023

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HOWIE SEE IT: Vindicated

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By Atty. Howie Calleja

It came with such relief when I got news that Father Albert Alejo, SJ, and Father Flaviano “Flavie” Villanueva, SVD; were acquitted due to insufficient evidence, by a Metropolitan Trial Court in Quezon City last September 6. Both Fr. Villanueva and Fr. Alejo had been facing charges of “conspiracy to commit sedition,” which the Duterte government laid on them in 2020. The charges came about after an April 2019 video went viral in the country, posted by an anonymous man known only as “Bikoy.”

The video alleged that former President Rodrigo Duterte’s son, Paolo Duterte, and a high-level presidential aide were involved in the drug trade. The priests were indicted for an alleged role in the video’s production, though in their defense they pointed out there was no evidence to prove their participation in the alleged distribution and production of the video.

Honestly, I think this exoneration came a bit late because the Department of Justice had already earlier vindicated four of our Catholic bishops from this case that likewise accused them of plotting to overthrow the Duterte administration, described by many as intimidation against government critics. The DOJ ruled that the bishops showed no intention of committing sedition and that the complaints filed by the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group lack evidence. The bishops previously cleared of the charges were Archbishop Socrates Villegas, Bishops Pablo Virgilio David, Honesto Ongtioco and Teodoro Bacani, including Fr. Robert Reyes and La Salle Bro. Armin Luistro.

As a lawyer, I strongly believe that our legal system is a powerful tool and the ability to use it to redress wrongs is a valued right of the average Filipino. In fact, an ordinary Filipino can use these powerful institutions to confront and seek relief against the largest entity and has the same rights to the legal process as the giant corporations — if the fight can be afforded. But in the Hands of a Tyrant (like the previous administration) the downside of such a system is that it can be abused. The turmoil and expense of litigation can cause significant harm in and of itself and may be weaponized to injure another even if the underlying case allegedly justifying the action is not considered viable by the very party bringing it. The case, itself, becomes the tool used to harm another.

As in the words of Fr. Villanueva (who since July 2015 run the St. Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center, an organization in Manila that helps the poor and homeless): “If being seditious means providing care and sanctuary for those who have been left behind and victimized by the fake drug war, then I accept, and I am guilty of sedition. But, obviously, I don’t find anything seditious with helping a brother, a sister, a wounded family.”

“The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine”, a metaphor attributed to both ancient Greek and Chinese philosophers, acknowledges the often-slow pace of attaining justice but advises patience because eventually justice is achieved. Yes, it may have come a bit too late, but Fr. Bert and Fr. Flavie together with nine other lay leaders are now finally VINDICATED.

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