Philippines Police Target Duterte's Opponents With Mass Sedition Charges Over Anonymous Videos Accusing Leader of Narcotics Ties

Philippines police filed charges of cyber libel and sedition against three dozen of President Rodrigo Duterte's political opponents over a series of YouTube videos in the recent elections accusing the controversial leader and his family of links to the illicit drugs trade.

The Filipino justice department is now investigating the criminal complaint against 36 individuals, Reuters reported, including Duterte's rivals in the Senate and the Catholic Church, who are accused of conspiring with a fake whistleblower to lie about the president.

At the center of the anonymous videos is a hooded man known as "Bikoy" who says he worked for a drugs gang connected to Duterte's family. A man has since come forward to police claiming to be Bikoy and alleging that Duterte's opponents orchestrated the whole thing.

"The filing of cases against key members of the opposition are clear acts of political persecution and harassment by the Duterte administration meant to stifle democratic dissent," Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, one of those facing charges over the videos, said in a statement.

Trillanes accused police investigators of having "clearly abused and misused the subpoena power recently bestowed on them to single out critics of the Duterte administration."

The accused deny any involvement with the videos. The reliability of the witness claiming to be Bikoy, Peter Joemel Advincula, is in question. He has a conviction for fraud and has made contradictory actions and statements, according to Inquirer.

Duterte, whose brutal war on drugs has seen thousands of extrajudicial killings, and is now the subject of a U.N. human rights investigation, denies allegations that he or his family have financial ties to the narcotics industry he is infamous for fighting against.

The videos claimed drug money was funneled to his family's bank accounts, including one belonging to Duterte's son, Paolo Duterte, a former vice mayor of Davao City and now a member of the House of Representatives.

The Filipino leader is highly popular among voters and his PDP-Laban party commands a supermajority in the country's parliament. Yet, despite his firm grip on power, he has often targeted political opponents with vicious rhetoric and threats of detention.

Duterte's spokesman, Salvador Panelo, distanced the leader from the charges. "We have nothing to do with this case. None at all. Absolutely nothing," Panelo told ABS-CBN, saying justice will now take its course. "My attitude there is it's about time to know the truth about this video."

According to PhilStar, a document attached the criminal complaint, which is not yet public, says the witness claims he was "was engaged by the respondents to spread lies against the president, his family and close associate, making them to appear as illegal drug trade protectors and how they earned staggering amounts of money."

Duterte Philippines sedition charges drugs war
Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte attends the plenary session of the 34th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Bangkok on June 22, 2019. LILLIAN SUWANRUMPHA/AFP/Getty Images