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Ombudsman dismisses treason, espionage raps vs. ex-PNoy, Trillanes

GMA News Online logo GMA News Online 6/18/2017 Gutierrez, Angelo
Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Monday, September 26, 2016 delivers his privilege speech defending the testimony of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato during the Senate hearings on the extrajudicial killings being linked to the Duterte administration's war on drugs. Benjie Castro © Benjie Castro Senator Antonio Trillanes IV on Monday, September 26, 2016 delivers his privilege speech defending the testimony of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato during the Senate hearings on the extrajudicial killings being linked to the Duterte administration's war on drugs. Benjie Castro

The Office of the Ombudsman has cleared former President Benigno Aquino III and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV of treason and espionage charges filed against them for undertaking “backchannel” talks with China over territorial disputes.

In a 16-page resolution dated June 7, which was shared by Trillanes to the media on Sunday, the Ombudsman dismissed a complaint filed in May 2016 by a group of supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte, who questioned the “clandestine meetings and the backchannel negotiations” between Trillanes, “who acted under authority from President Aquino,” and Chinese representatives.

“Having resolved against the individual culpability of Pres. Aquino and Sen. Trillanes, the conspiracy theory advanced by complainants must therefore fail,” it said.

The Ombudsman found no probable cause for treason, turning down the complainants’ argument that information allegedly given by Trillanes to Chinese representatives “emboldened” China in its “external aggression” over the disputed areas.

It noted that while there are ongoing territorial disputes, “The Philippines is not at war with China,” underscoring how treason “cannot be committed in peace time.”

“Backchannel negotiations with China cannot be construed as ‘giving aid to enemy.’ As a resident of the intense stand-off in April and May 2012 between Chinese and Philippine vessels in the Scarborough Shoal, Pres. Aquino’s action of exploring means of peacefully settling the on-going issue with China was for the interest of the Philippines," the Ombudsman said in the resolution. "It is an inherent presidential power to pursue negotiations with other States. On the other hand, Sen. Trillanes merely acted under Pres. Aquino’s instruction to negotiate with Chinese representatives in order to ease the escalating tension between the two States."

“While there is 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 added.

The Ombudsman also found no probable cause over the espionage charges.

It said the complainants’ basis, the so-called “Brady Notes,” which was made public by former senator Juan Ponce Enrile in an argument with Trillanes at the Senate in 2012, “cannot sufficiently establish the accusations” against the latter.

“The claims and assertion in the so-called Brady Notes are considered hearsays and, thus, should not be given evidentiary weight,” it said.

In a statement that accompanied a copy of the resolution released to the media, Trillanes said the decision proves that the charges were “merely filed to harass and tarnish (his) reputation.” —Rose-An Jessica Dioquino/ALG, GMA News

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