CNA Staff, Jan 14, 2021 / 14:19 pm
A Catholic priest in the Philippines is set to stand trial on sedition charges, stemming from his public objections to President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug policies.
Father Flaviano “Flavie” Villanueva, a priest of the Society of the Divine Word, is “set to stand trial” on charges of "conspiracy to commit sedition,” which the government laid on him last year, the BBC reported this week. He denies the charges against him.
During February 2020, the Filipino government dropped all charges against four bishops and two priests who were accused of attempting to overthrow the president, as prosecutors admitted that there is no evidence linking the six clerics to a plot to attempt to overthrow Duterte.
At the same time, the Justice Department announced fresh charges of “conspiracy to commit sedition” against Villanueva, Fr. Albert Alejo, S.J., and nine laypeople.
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 Duterte’s son, Paolo Duterte, and a high-level presidential aide were involved in the drug trade.
“Bikoy” later identified himself as Peter Advincula, and claimed that the bishops, along with the opposition party, were part of a “shadow group” that aimed to remove Duterte as president. That video led to the charges being filed.
The bishops, who maintained their innocence since the accusations were made, at the time offered mixed reactions to the news that they had been cleared but others charged.
“Now that the government officials have seen the falsity of the charges, what can we do but pray as I have always been doing. I pray even more,” Archbishop Socrates Villegas of Lingayen-Dagupan said in a February 2020 statement published by the Philippine Bishops’ Conference.