Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales has dismissed the treason and espionage complaint filed against former President Benigno Aquino III and Senator Antonio Trillanes IV over backchannel negotiations with China.
In a 16-page resolution approved on April 17, the Ombudsman said there was no probable cause to indict Aquino and Trillanes for violation of Articles 114 and 117 of the Revised Penal Code. The said resolution was released by Trillanes to reporters on Sunday.
The criminal complaint arose from Trillanes’ “clandestine meetings” with Chinese officials where he allegedly peddled misinformation that “emboldened” Beijing to commit its “aggressive posturing” in the disputed areas of the South China Sea.
The Ombudsman, however, said the offense of treason cannot be established simply because “the Philippines is not at war with China.”
No war, no treason
“Treason is a war crime. It is not an all-time offense. It cannot be committed in peacetime,” the resolution read. “While there is peace, there are no traitors. There must be actual hostilities.”
It added that the ongoing maritime dispute “does not make China an enemy of our country,” especially as Manila and Beijing continue to have bilateral and diplomatic relations.
“Backchannel negotiations with China cannot be construed as ‘giving aid to enemy,'” the resolution stated.
The Ombudsman said Aquino acted “for the interest of the Philippines” by exploring means of peacefully settling the “intense standoff” at Scarborough Shoal in April and May 2012. “It is an inherent presidential power to pursue negotiations with other States,” the resolution read.
Meanwhile, Trillanes was found to have “merely acted under Pres. Aquino’s instruction to negotiate with Chinese representatives” to ease the tension.
It also said the senator’s actions could not have “emboldened” China as claimed by the complainants. Citing a May 23, 2011 report published by news website Interaksyon, the Ombudsman noted that military garrisons and outposts have already been built in the disputed areas a full year before Trillanes embarked on backchannel negotiations.
Chinese aggression “could not, therefore, be attributed to the backchannel discussions between Sen. Trillanes and the Chinese representatives,” the resolution stated.
The Ombudsman also junked the espionage allegation, as the so-called Brady Notes “are considered hearsays and, thus, should not be given evidentiary weight.”
The notes were taken by Philippine Ambassador to China Sonia Brady regarding her own meeting with Trillanes. Former Senator Juan Ponce Enrile revealed its contents in the Senate in September 2012, after Trillanes accused him of railroading a measure to split the province of Camarines Sur.
The complaint cited the Brady Notes in accusing Trillanes of telling the Chinese that “no one cares” about the shoal and the Philippines cannot enforce its coastal protection as the military needs major upgrades. This information supposedly put the Philippines in danger.
But, the Ombudsman said the notes were insufficient to prove the senator disclosed vital information “with the intent or reason to believe that such information would be used by China to the injury of the Philippines.”
The complaint was filed in May 2016 by retired Gen. Roberto Lastimoso, Dr. Enrico Sampang, Dr. Dioscoro Esteban Jr., retired Judge Moslemen Macarambon, and former cultural communities sectoral representative Ronald Adamat.
Almost all of the complainants are currently serving in the government. Lastimoso is the chairman of the Philippine National Railways, Sampang is the Department of the Interior and Local Government program manager on federalism, Macarambon is an assistant secretary at the Department of Justice, and Adamat is a commissioner at the Commission on Higher Education.
No less than President Rodrigo Duterte had previously blamed the “loss” of Scarborough Shoal on Trillanes’s 2012 backchannel negotiations. “To me, it’s treason,” he said in a May 16, 2016 press briefing.