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Philippine Catholic leaders call sedition charges against bishops and priests “beyond belief”

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36 political opponents of President Duterte were charged, including four Catholic clergymen

The Philippine national police filed sedition charges on Thursday against 36 political opponents including four Catholic bishops and three priests.  The country’s Catholic leaders expressed surprise at the charges, which the president of the Catholic bishop’s conference called “beyond belief.”

The 36 opposition figures are charged with inciting sedition, cyber libel, libel and obstruction of justice, stemming from the release of a viral video earlier this year that linked President Rodrigo Duterte and his family to the country’s illegal drug trade.

On the video, Peter Joemel Advincula claimed that Duterte’s son, Paolo Duterte and a presidential aide were involved in drug trafficking. Weeks later, at a press conference arranged by the Philippine National Police, Advincula claimed that Vice President Leni Robredo, opposition political figures and members of the Catholic Church were behind a plot against Duterte, reported UCANews.

Among those charged was Bishop Honesto Ongtioco, who said that he was surprised to see his name on the list of alleged conspirators, according to the UCANews report.

Of the charges, Bishop Ongtioco said, ”They are based on nothing but false testimony. What motivates the supposed witness to give false testimonies is what in fact [the police] should be investigating.”

“The intention is obvious: pure harassment and an effort on the part of the police to do not their sworn duty but what they think will be pleasing to the higher authorities.”

“They are in effect doing a disservice, dishonor and an injustice to their own institution and to the few remaining people of integrity among their fellow officers in uniform,” he said.

Archbishop Romulo Valles of Davao, president of the Catholic bishops’ conference expressed his disbelief at the charges.

“I am very saddened by this news and am greatly disturbed by this development,” he said. “That they are accused of sedition and other criminal complaints is for me beyond belief.”

According to a UCANews report, the archbishop said he knows the church leaders and “they are bishops whose sincerity, decency, respectfulness and love for our country and our people are beyond doubt.”