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Philippine police file sedition case against vice president

FILE - In this June 17, 2019, file photo made available by the Malacanang Presidential Photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (Robinson Ninal Jr./Malacanang Presidential Photo via AP, File)
FILE - In this June 17, 2019, file photo made available by the Malacanang Presidential Photo, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte (Robinson Ninal Jr./Malacanang Presidential Photo via AP, File)(Robinson Ninal Jr.)

MANILA — Philippine police filed sedition and other criminal complaints Thursday against the vice president, three opposition senators, four Roman Catholic bishops, and other critics of President Rodrigo Duterte for allegedly plotting to destabilize his administration.

Vice President Leni Robredo and the others have long denied the allegations from a formerly detained crime suspect who alleged he plotted with them.

The Department of Justice said it received the complaints from the national police’s Criminal Investigation and Detection Group.

‘‘I will constitute the panel of investigating state prosecutors tomorrow,’’ Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra told the Associated Press in a cellphone text message. ‘‘They may start serving subpoenas on the respondents next week.’’

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Unlike Duterte, Robredo does not have constitutional immunity, Guevarra said.

A legal group critical of Duterte, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, said the allegations ‘‘smack of political persecution and shotgun repression on its face using again the legal system as a potent political weapon through the law of rulers.’’

In the Philippines, the president and vice president are elected separately. Robredo, who has long criticized Duterte over his bloody crackdown against illegal drugs and his offensive sexist remarks, is next in the line of succession if Duterte loses the presidency before his six-year term ends in 2022.

The allegations center on a formerly detained crime suspect, Peter Joemel Advincula, who alleged that he plotted with the accused to discredit Duterte, his family, and other government officials by linking them to drug syndicates. With his face concealed, Advincula claimed he was the man who appeared in a series of videos posted online that detailed the supposed links of Duterte, his children, close aides, and other officials to illegal drugs.

When the police played down his claims and launched a search for him, Advincula suddenly surfaced and was presented in a news conference by top police officials where he denied the allegations he made against Duterte on video. He then made a new claim and implicated Robredo and other prominent Duterte critics in a plot to discredit the president and destabilize his administration.

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Meanwhile, thousands of Philippine police officers have received administrative punishments with more than 2,000 dismissed for wrongdoings during raids where drug suspects were killed under the president’s crackdown, officials said Thursday.

Communications Assistant Secretary Marie Rafael Banaag told a news conference that 14,724 police were investigated for their involvement in police drug operations that led to deaths from July 2016 until last April. She said 7,867 of them received administrative punishments for unspecified lapses.

A tally presented by Banaag showed that 2,367 police officers have been fired, 4,100 suspended, while the rest were reprimanded, demoted, had their salaries forfeited ,or deprived of certain privileges.

Banaag did not say how many officers have been criminally charged for serious lapses or outright crimes committed while enforcing the crackdown, which was launched by Duterte as his centerpiece program when he took office in mid-2016.

Philippine police officials say about 6,600 drug suspects have been killed in raids carried out by the police mostly in gun battles that ensued after the suspects fought back and endangered the lives of law enforcers. Banaag and other officials reported a lower death toll, more than 5,500, saying authorities were still verifying other drug-related deaths.

Last year, a Philippine court found three police officers guilty of killing a student they alleged was a drug dealer in the first known such conviction under the crackdown.

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Besides Robredo, those implicated in the complaint included opposition Senators Antonio Trillanes IV, Risa Hontiveros, and Leila de Lima, seven opposition senatorial candidates who lost in the May elections, Catholic archbishops Socrates Villegas and Pablo David, and a Catholic university president, Armin Luistro.

They were sued for alleged sedition, inciting to sedition, libel, harboring a criminal, obstruction of justice, a justice department statement said.

Duterte is known for his temper and expletives-laden outbursts against critics, especially those who have raised alarm over his deadly crackdown against illegal drugs.

Last year, Supreme Court justices ousted the then-chief justice, Maria Lourdes Sereno, after the government solicitor-general alleged that her appointment by Duterte’s predecessor was legally flawed and petitioned for her removal. Critics say the ousting undermined the court’s independence.

Another opposition senator, de Lima, has been detained for more than two years after being accused by Duterte of involvement in illegal drugs, a crime she has vehemently denied. A former human rights commission chief, de Lima investigated Duterte’s alleged role in extrajudicial killings in an antidrug crackdown when he served as mayor of southern Davao city for years.

Duterte’s allies dominate the House of Representatives and won a majority in Senate elections in May.