St. Louis, Mo., Sep 8, 2023 / 10:40 am
Two Catholic priests and nine laypeople, previously on trial in the Philippines for speaking out against a former president’s harsh anti-drug tactics, were acquitted this week of sedition charges.
As reported by Catholic outlet UCA News, Father Albert Alejo, SJ, and Father Flaviano “Flavie” Villanueva, a priest of the Society of the Divine Word, were acquitted due to insufficient evidence, the Metropolitan Trial Court in Quezon City in the national capital of Manila said in its Sept. 6 ruling.
Villanueva and Alejo had been facing charges of “conspiracy to commit sedition,” which the 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.
A former substance abuser, Villanueva had since July 2015 run the St. Arnold Janssen Kalinga Center, an organization in Manila that helps the poor and homeless. He has spoken out repeatedly against Duterte’s policies, even calling the president’s drug war — which saw tens of thousands of people die in extrajudicial killings — “fake.”