Philippine police have recommended sedition charges against the vice president and other opposition figures, a move slammed yesterday as an attempt to stifle dissent under President Rodrigo Duterte.
Police allege Vice President Leni Robredo, Catholic Church leaders and opposition politicians had plotted to destabilise the Duterte government by implicating him in the narcotics trade.
Duterte launched a war against the drug trade when he came into power three years ago.
The crackdown has claimed thousands of lives.
Prosecutors have opened a probe into the more than two dozen figures targeted, and they could face trial on charges that could lead to lengthy prison sentences.
The maximum penalty for sedition is six years in prison.
Robredo’s Liberal Party said the police recommendation was clear political harassment against the second-highest elected official of the country, and who is also among the most prominent opponents of Duterte’s drug crackdown.
“The enemies of democracy are behind this because the VP is the sole remaining obstacle to their plan to pursue the killings in the fake war on drugs, sell the Philippines to China and rule the country forever,” a party statement said.
Under Philippine law, the vice president is elected separately.
The case stems from a series of videos circulated online in which a masked man claims the Duterte family is linked to the illegal drug trade.
The man, who had said he was a witness, later surrendered and appeared with police on television to say his claims were false and that he was cajoled into making the videos by opposition members.
The others targeted by the police include opposition politicians and four church leaders, most of them known critics of how the drug war has been conducted.
Critics say the conduct of the campaign could amount to crimes against humanity.
Duterte insists he is open to challenges but has shown no qualms about threatening high-profile critics, several of whom he said last month he would jail if they tried to impeach him.
Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo said Duterte had no involvement in the police sedition complaint.
“We have nothing to do with this case, not at all, absolutely nothing,” he told news channel ANC. “Let the judicial process do its work.”
Antonio Trillanes, a former senator and Duterte’s strongest critic, described the complaint as “political persecution and harassment” intended to stifle democratic dissent.
A spokesman for Vice President Leni Robredo, who was not Duterte’s running mate and was elected separately, called the complaint “completely baseless”. Her party ally senator Francis Pangilinan said it was part of a series of moves towards removing her from office.
Leila de Lima, an anti-Duterte senator detained on drugs charges, said it was “hogwash, pure hogwash”, and Samira Gutoc, a candidate in recent Senate elections, urged the police not to become partisan.
“I really am baffled,” Gutoc said of being accused of involvement. Apart from the anti-narcotics campaign, Duterte has also pursued friendly ties with China in pursuit of trade and investment despite rival claims over the South China Sea.
His setting aside of the standoff with China over the resource-rich waterway has been criticised as weakness by some in the Philippines.