LAWYER Jude Sabio last week revealed that it was former senator Antonio Trillanes 4th who was the brains behind the so-called “Totoong Narcolist” videos, spread through social media in April that claimed President Duterte and his children were involved with illegal drug syndicates.
Last May, Peter Joemel Advincula, the narrator in the videos who called himself “Bikoy,” surrendered to authorities and disclosed that the allegations in the video were all lies and that it was a fabrication of Trillanes intended to sway voters to vote for the opposition Senate candidates in the elections early that month. Trillanes denied the accusation in a privilege speech at the Senate.
Last week, Advincula’s disclosure was supported by Sabio, who has been viewed as one of Trillanes’ closest conspirators in the latter’s anti-Duterte campaign. He was the lawyer for Edgar Matobato who had claimed to have been with the Davao “death squads” when Duterte was the city mayor. He also filed a case last April against Duterte and several of his officials at the International Court of Justice, accusing them of mass murder in their war against illegal drugs.
Now, Sabio has, quite surprisingly, practically announced to the whole country that Trillanes was the brains behind the videos in his Sept. 2, 2019 column in the regional newspaper Mindanao Goldstar Daily.
It was melodramatically titled “Abyss of no return,” referring to Trillanes’ “Bikoy” propaganda operation.
I am publishing in full the column itself as follows, as its details — especially why a perceived a slight on his person made him back out of the Trillanes conspiracy — make his accusation practically incontestable. Trillanes has so far not denied Sabio’s claims.
Sabio column starts here
“The ‘Totoong Narcolist’ videos [in which the narrator claimed his name was ‘Bikoy’] caused a wave of national discord and discourse.
“As a lawyer, I was almost burned by the fire of the cause célèbre. On 29 April 2019, ex-senator Trillanes personally met me together with his lady staff at the Novotel Hotel in Cubao, Quezon City. As usual, my wife Jo ann A. Fortich was with me.
“In the meeting at the hotel lobby, I told Senator Trillanes to refrain and desist from Bikoy, because it was just a trap, apart from the dire lack of funds even for the ongoing ICC (International Criminal Court) case. Jo ann also told him: ‘Sir, ‘wag mong itutuloy ‘yan, babagsak ka n’yan at ‘di ka na makakabangon.’
“That meeting was unusually turbulent. In the few times before in the past more than two years, our meeting had been uneventful. This was markedly different, because Jo ann, for the first time at one point and to my consternation and disbelief, spoke out in a very loud voice against the senator, angrily pointing an accusing finger at him and shedding tears as she lambasted him.
“And yet, she was not personally angry with the senator. I had the feeling that she was conveying a dire ominous message like an oracle in antiquity portending of a terrible event to come. Those tears, which were never shed before in the few times that we personally met the senator, underlined a potent portentous prophecy against Bikoy.
“That meeting culminates the senator’s actual effort to recruit me as a lawyer for Bikoy, which was first expressed to me on 23 April 2019 through a viber text by his close-in security/staff Jonnel Sangalang.
“The text caught me by surprise, because I had absolutely no idea about the senator’s involvement with Bikoy. Jonnel Sangalang represented to me that Bikoy had ‘handlers’ to whom I would be recommended to be his lawyer, and that my task would be to submit a complaint with the Ombudsman following Bikoy’s public revelation that he would soon surface.
“I was lucky when a twist of the hand of fate, which I consider as a blessing in disguise, intervened to spare me from the disaster that had befallen instead later on the FLAG (Free Legal Assistance Group) and IBP (Integrated Bar of the Philippines) lawyers. Two days later, or on 25 April 2019, Jonnel Sangalang contacted me again through viber, asking me: ‘Atty, updated ba ang license mo? After that MCLE?’ At that time, he said that he was in a meeting with the supposed ‘handlers.’
“I diligently responded to him by text, stating that an MCLE* deficiency, which is just a matter of compliance, does not affect my license as a lawyer, as lawyers are not required to renew their license which is lifetime. Still, he would not believe me, saying ‘Seriously, really?’ obviously in reference to that earlier egregious warrant of arrest against me which had been voided by the Court of Appeals on 29 March 2019.
“After some thought, I was jolted by the absurdity: I was being recruited to be a lawyer and yet here I was being asked if my license as a lawyer was updated. Beginning to feel an insult and affront on my profession, I began to react negatively, resulting in a nasty exchange of texts between Jonnel and me and causing a lot of emotional distress.
“In an effort to placate me, Senator Trillanes through his lady staff proposed an immediate meeting with me the following day or on 26 April 2019, but I declined, because I was still very much emotionally upset.
The senator proposed a meeting instead on 29 April 2019 at Novotel which was the venue later chosen by him. But in the meantime, the damage had become hopelessly irreparable.
“In the Novotel meeting, the senator asked me what was wrong about that innocent question coming from a non-lawyer. I presume that question came from him but coursed through his staff Jonnel.
According to him, I could just have answered without much ado, but I rejected the senator’s explanation, telling him that the question should never have been asked in the first place.
“I told him that they could have conducted due diligence about my lawyer’s license or the license of any lawyer for that matter by asking other lawyers, the IBP, the Supreme Court or the MCLE committee — but certainly not me. I wonder if a patient would ever go to a doctor for a medical consultation, and dare to ask the doctor if his medical license is updated.
“Although the senator expressed a lame apology for his staff Jonnel, as if the question did not come from him directly, my lawyering for Bikoy was already out of the question.
“At the conclusion of that rocky meeting, the senator’s parting words were: ‘Sundan na lang ang susunod na kabanata,’ which to me was a defiant, firm affirmation of his dogged, grim determination to carry on with Bikoy and reflective of his unwavering belief in Bikoy.
“True enough, one week after that meeting, obviously in a bid to influence the outcome of the elections, Bikoy, identifying himself as Peter Joemel Advincula held, on 6 May 2019, a solo press conference at the Integrated Bar of the Philippines national office.
“Although Bikoy was not accompanied by a lawyer, as he still had no lawyer then, the use of the IBP premises lent a weighty air of legitimacy and credence to his press conference. It must have created the popular belief that the national organization of lawyers was backing him.
“But matters came to a head when Sen. [‘Tito’] Sotto, in his press conference, in no time revealed that Bikoy had a similar statement way back in 2016 containing the same narrative against LP (Liberal Party) personalities, including Ninoy Aquino, Mar Roxas and Leila de Lima. This revelation must have doused cold water on fire. As if the fire were extinguished, the IBP declined legal assistance to Bikoy, on the pretext that he failed to qualify.
“That was the beginning of the end for Bikoy and his ‘handlers.’ The final nail on the coffin came when Senator Lacson abruptly recalled his decision to undertake a Senate probe, which must have earlier given Bikoy and his handlers a strong boost of morale.
“Not long after the May elections, in a press conference at the PNP headquarters, Bikoy made a surprise complete turnaround: he disavowed the ‘Totoong Narcolist’ videos, calling them fabricated.
“This was eventually followed last July by the PNP criminal charges with the DoJ, an ongoing case, on the basis of Bikoy’s statement, against ex-senator Trillanes, Jonnel Sangalang and Fr. Albert Alejo SJ, among many others.
“Jo ann’s words again proved to be highly prophetic and will resonate into the future: the cause célèbre is an abyss with no hope of return.”
*The Supreme Court’s Mandatory Continuing Legal Education (MCLE) program, which lawyers are required to take every three years, under penalty of a fine or suspension from practising law. Sabio had been formally charged in court for his failure to comply with the requirement.