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Was Trillanes' US trip treason? Lawyer and the law say otherwise

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV met with his US counterparts, such Republican Sen. Marco Rubio (pictured), last week to discuss the situation of human rights in the country. Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said that the DOJ will be looking into if treason can be filed against the staunch Duterte critic. CC/Senate Prib

MANILA, Philippines — Was Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV's trip to the US, where he met with counterparts in the US legislature, an act of treason?

Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, in a radio interview on Sunday, said that it would be up to the Department of Justice to determine if Trillanes should be charged with treason for meeting with American lawmakers to discuss, among other things, the drug-related killings in the country.

According to reports, Andanar's statement had been prompted by inquiries on social media.

Lawyer Florin Hilbay, a former solicitor general of the Philippines, told PhilStar.com in a text message that: "Treason can only be committed in a state of war."

"It is the right and obligation of a senator of the republic to properly inform counterparts abroad about the state of human rights in the country," Hilbay added.

Andanar did not categorically answer whether Trillanes' meetings were treasonous, saying only that the matter "will be studied by the lawyers of our President because these are legal matters."

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But Hilbay, a professor of Constitutional Law and who helped the Philippines win an arbitration case over parts of the disputed South China Sea, is confident that "the career officials of the DOJ will understand the law."

Article 114 of the Revised Penal Code provides that treason is when: "Any Filipino citizen who levies war against the Philippines or adheres to her enemies giving them aid or comfort within the Philippines or elsewhere."

The RPC also holds that a person can only be convicted upon the "testimony of two witnesses at least to the same overt act or on confession of the accused in open court."

In 2015, members of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process were accused of sedition and treason for pushing passage of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, a proposal that would implement the 2014 Comprehensive Agreement with the Bangsamoro. Those complaints were junked by the Manila Prosecutor's Office and the Office of the Ombudsman.

"The act of respondents in drafting and proposing the BBL does not amount to ‘levying war’ against the Republic of the Philippines, or adhering to her enemies; at any rate, treason is a war crime and cannot be committed in time of peace, as in the present case," the Office of the Ombudsman said in 2016.

Rep. Harry Roque (Kabayan party-list) said in his column in the Manila Standard in 2015 that the complaints against OPAPP officials would not prosper. 

Citing jurisprudence, Roque said "the act of levying war must be against the Republic of the Philippines at a time when it is at war with a foreign enemy."  He said past convictions for treason were in cases that were "against those who fought with or collaborated with the Japanese during World War II."

Although its has been dubbed a "war on drugs", the government's drive against illegal narcotics is not an actual war.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II has not responded to Philstar.com's request for comment as of this post.

Trillanes: We discussed Philippines-US ties, corruption, human rights

Trillanes, on Monday, pushed back at the allegation of treason: "I betrayed the nation because I talked with US Senator Marco Rubio even if Rubio already clarified that we discussed Philippine-US alliance, corruption and human rights situation?"

In a tweet, American senator Marco Rubio confirmed that he met with Sen. Sonny Trillanes.

The senator, in an earlier statement, said that he only presented "factual information" about "what's happening in the country." He also denied accusations that he tried to stop US President Donald Trump's planned visit to the country. He said state visits are planned well in advance and cannot be called off "on the say so of a Philippine senator."

"Be assured that I pushed for the interests of our country. But let me emphasize that the interests of our country are not necessarily the same as the interests of Mr. Duterte," Trillanes added.

Trillanes' critics have made reference to his participation in mutinies against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. He has since applied for and was granted amnesty for those acts. Amnesty was granted through a proclamation by President Benigno Aquino III in 2010. Congress concurred with the proclamation.

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