HIS big mouth has put Antonio Trillanes 4th in another big trouble, this time for allegedly violating the nation’s anti-sedition laws.
The non-lawyer forgot or didn’t know — perhaps in his panic or shock over President Duterte’s move against him — that calling for the overthrow of a Philippine president other than through impeachment, violates our anti-sedition laws, which most countries also have.
Trillanes talked — or shrieked — too much in his daily press conferences against Duterte after the President voided his amnesty on September 4. His rantings against Duterte, according to a suit filed September 14 by former Negros congressman Jacinto Paras and three others, were in violation of the anti-sedition provisions of the Revised Penal Code (Article 142), or the listing of most crimes and the penalties for these.
These among others clearly specify that to incite “people against the lawful authorities” is sedition and punishable from six months to six years imprisonment.
Duterte issued his proclamation against Trillanes, but then asked the courts to issue the warrant of arrest. Obviously afraid of spending a single night in some grubby police jail, Trillanes has holed up in the Senate (for the 15th day today), and threw vitriol against the President, calling for his overthrow almost every day.
Courts to decide
To be sure, it would be up to the courts to decide whether Trillanes did or did not utter seditious statements. But c’mon, we’d be fooling ourselves if we thought he did not call for Duterte’s violent ouster, and merely criticized him and suggested his impeachment, the only legal way to remove a sitting president.
I myself am looking forward to the day when Trillanes hilariously tries to wiggle out of his quagmire and claims he never called for Duterte’s overthrow, that he was just being constructive in his criticisms of the President, that he did not call him a dictator to be ousted as soon as possible.
The Yellows and Trillanes’ gang will of course call the sedition suit another Duterte move to pin down the mutineer, that it’s another act of political persecution.
But so what? We are a government of laws, and its foundation is the principle of “dura lex, sed lex” (the law may be harsh, but it is the law). There’s not a single court that would accept the argument from an accused that he’s just being politically persecuted.
The unscientific-minded dean of the UP College of Engineering, Rizalinda de Leon, has a bit more sense than Trillanes. Last September 11, she issued a “Pledge of Support” for a scheduled September 21 rally by UP activists, saying that she supports the banner of “Engineer the Downfall of Tyrant and Dictator Duterte.”
But she backpedaled on September 17 and issued a “clarification” that it was an “editing misunderstanding” with the “Uprise” group that had asked for a statement from her. She said she does not “and will not instigate the downfall of any person or leader, including President Duterte.”
De Leon may have realized her stupidity in the wave of netizens’ outrage against the statement. I suspect though that some lawyer friend whispered to her that to call for the “downfall of tyrant and Dictator Duterte” is an unarguably seditious act under our Revised Penal Code. A government employee calling for the President’s overthrow? She should be fired on the basis of her first statement.
Trillanes ignored our anti-sedition laws obviously because of his experience not only in making statements for overthrowing two presidents (Duterte and Arroyo) but actually undertaking armed actions to topple Arroyo in 2003 and 2007, when he and his gang forcibly occupied Oakwood and then the Manila Peninsula hotels, foolishly thinking their “last stand” would trigger another People Power uprising as Enrile and Ramos’ did in 1986 in Camp Crame. Yet for his blatant violations of our anti-sedition laws, he even got to be a senator of the Republic.
However, this time around, the President he is calling to be overthrown is fighting back, and will be throwing the book at him, to put him away for many years.
Another reason why Trillanes forgot that there are such things as anti-sedition laws is that it has been forgotten that calling for the overthrow of a duly elected president is a crime in our country (and nearly all other nations). This is because of the two historic events in which elected presidents, after a campaign of intensive seditious propaganda against them, were overthrown by extra-constitutional means: Marcos in 1986 and Estrada in 2001.
It also has been the accomplishment of the Communist Party of the Philippines to propagate the view that there is nothing wrong with calling for the violent overthrow of a democratically elected president, every single one of whom — except Corazon Aquino who freed its head Jose Sison — they claimed to be a dictator and at the same time a puppet of the US.
The communists’ many front organizations like the Kabataang Makabayan and the National Democratic Front since the 1970s made such seditious statements without fear of the law since they were underground, and therefore its leaders or those responsible for making such statements were beyond the reach of authorities.
Somehow over the years, especially with the advent of social media, it didn’t seem to be a violation of any law to call for the overthrow of an elected government.
Pillar of nations
But anti-sedition laws have been for centuries a pillar of all sovereign states, the notion having been first conceived when nations started to emerge on the world stage in 1351 under the English Statute of Treasons. Anti-sedition laws are part of the common law in Great Britain and in all of its colonies that have become independent nations. In the so-called land of the free, i.e., the US, seditious conspiracy is punishable by 20 years’ imprisonment, with the “delay in the execution of any law of the United States” being included in that crime.
After all, how can a nation become cohesive even with the Hobbesian “social contract” between rulers and ruled, if a few of its members are allowed to freely call for the ouster of a leader who has been elected by the majority?
In our part of the world, we actually have the weakest anti-sedition laws, which have been little enforced since 1986.
Malaysia even tightened its anti-sedition laws in 2015, setting a maximum of 20 years’ jail, and allowing indefinite detention without trial. More than 78 Malaysians since 2014 have been charged and are in jail for allegedly violating anti-sedition laws. In Singapore in 2015, a 16-year-old posted a YouTube rant against Lee Kuan Yew, for which he got four weeks’ imprisonment, and such a stern warning that the teenager profusely apologized.
South Korea, China, Taiwan, Japan, and Thailand all have tougher anti-sedition laws than the Philippines. Maybe that’s one reason why they’ve managed to be so united that they have developed their economies faster than we have. Here, our political and economic elites seem to value “freedom of speech” over the need for strengthening the nation.
The strict implementation of our anti-sedition laws could be one good result of this Trillanes chapter.