My heart goes out to Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas, former president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP), and the other bishops and priests who have to defend themselves from unsubstantiated charges that they were involved in the production and propagation of defamatory videos before the last elections, in an alleged attempt to oust President Rodrigo Duterte.

The allegation does not make sense. The videos, titled “Ang totoong narco list” (“the true narco list”) appeared in the social media before the May elections, and  alleged that Paolo Duterte and Christopher Lawrence “Bong” Go had made billions in the illegal drugs trade. There was no attack on President Duterte himself. If the intention was to prevent the two Mindanao candidates from getting elected, it miserably failed. Bong Go is now a senator and Paolo Duterte a deputy speaker of the House of Representatives.

The videos were authored by a hooded character named “Bikoy.” At first, the government tried to discredit him with all its might, but later embraced him as the most credible storyteller after he shed off his mask, identified himself by name as Peter Joemel Advincula, and claimed the bishops, priests and their political accomplices, all 35 of them, scripted everything he said.

No credible evidence has been offered in support of this claim. It is Advincula’s word against the word of his 35 politically credentialed foes. All have denied his claim: they had nothing to do with the videos, and they are not aware of any plan to bring down the DU30 administration. No one has seen any such thing either. Although the Bikoy videos created a minor sensation in the social media, they never grew into a campaign for regime change.

The bishops named by Advincula as alleged conspirators—-Villegas, Pablo David of Caloocan, who is also the vice president of the CBCP, Honesto Ongtioco of Cubao, and Bishop Emeritus Teodoro Bacani of Novaliches—are all opposed to the drug killings and DU30’s blasphemies, but they are not  part of any oust-DU30 campaign, which is completely imaginary.

In an affidavit to the police, Advincula claims that on Dec. 12, 2018, 6 p.m., he met with Archbishop Villegas and Fr. Albert Alejo, S. J., at the Jesuit Residence inside Ateneo University in Quezon City, to discuss the release of some of the Bikoy videos. Villegas flatly denies this allegation. On that date, he says he was at the Parish Church of Our Lady of the Rosary in Orani, Bataan where he delivered the homily in a thanksgiving mass attended by some 700 people. A sworn statement by Fr. Jersey Prepose, who invited the archbishop to be the homilist at such mass, attests to this, and is now in the hands of the PNP.

Villegas says he stayed in Orani until late that day, and went back to Dagupan only in the evening.  Unless he has developed the gift of bilocation, like one saintly Filipino archbishop who is now undergoing the process of beatification, he could not have been in Orani, Bataan and in Ateneo, Quezon City at the same time. Nothing contradicts the physical evidence.

I said my heart goes out to Archbishop Soc because something strikingly similar happened to me 39 years ago when I resigned from the Marcos Cabinet after 10 years of dedicated service. Marcos had nothing to do with it, but a young lawyer whom I once considered a protege apparently nursed a grudge because of my failure to recognize and support his ambition for elective office. So on the day I left the Cabinet, he wrote Gen. Fabian Ver, the AFP Chief of Staff and Marcos’ security chief, a letter claiming that on such and such a date I traveled by land to a forested town in Camarines Norte en route to Naga in order to meet with NPA rebels. It was beyond my wildest imaginings. I had never traveled by land to Camarines Norte or to Naga during that period, but there it was, in black and white — it was my word, a resigned Cabinet minister, against that of a clean-cut young man with a bright future before him.  

Happily, while rechecking the records, I saw that on those dates I was supposed to be consorting with the NPA in their lair, I was actually on a speaking mission to the United Nations in New York. I shared the information with Ver, and he and I had a very good laugh after that.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevara will be serving the truth and justice by finding the bishops’ testimony sufficient, and ending this attempt to harass churchmen whose only fault is their vocal opposition to the drug killings and the presidential attacks on the Church and God.

Representative Duterte and Senator Go are not denied the opportunity to seek redress for the assault on their character, but this is entirely a private matter, and it is not for the Department of Justice to dress it up as a case of sedition against the state. There is no constitutional or legal basis for that.