De Lima cries foul over wiretapping of her mobile phones

Philippine National Police Chief Ronald dela Rosa says the PNP has no capability to intercept communication. Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former PNP chief himself, doubts Dela Rosa's claim.

WIRETAPPING. Senator Leila De Lima cries foul over the alleged wiretapping of her mobile phones, saying it violates her right to privacy. Photo by Camille Elemia/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Is she a terrorist that her phones are being tapped?

Neophyte Senator Leila De Lima lamented on Thursday, September 1, the alleged wiretapping of her mobile phones, saying it violated her right to privacy.

“Ayaw ko po sanang i-raise ito, kasi syempre di naman siguro ipagkakaila, marami nang nagsabi sa akin na matagal nang na-tap ang aking mga cellphones, di ho ba?” De Lima said in front of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and Philippine National chief Ronald Dela Rosa in a Senate hearing.

(I didn’t want to raise this initially, but this could not be denied. Many people have told me that my mobile phones have long been tapped, right?)

De Lima said she does not know the reasons behind it, as she is neither a terrorist nor a drug coddler. 

“So what legitimate purpose is being served kung ganun? Terrorist ho ba ako o dahil ‘yung sinasabi ng iba na coddler ako? ‘Yun ho ba ang purpose na tina-tap ang mga cellphones ko ngayon? I don’t expect anyone to answer that question. I’m just thinking aloud,” De Lima said.

(So what legitimate purpose is being served with that? It it because I’m a terrorist or am a drug coddler, as others say, that’s why my phones are being tapped? I don’t expect anyone to answer that question. I’m just thinking aloud.)

“’Wag na po tayo maglokohan, di ba? Mahilig kasi ako manood ng detective stories,” she added. (Let’s not fool each other. I watch detective stories a lot.)

With all the threats to her and her privacy, De Lima admitted being so cautious to the point of paranoia.

“I’m very cautious now. At times I get paranoid because of the gravity of what they are doing to me,she told reporters in a mix of English and Filipino.

President Rodrigo Duterte said he received evidence against his fiercest critic through an interception by a foreign government, which he refused to name. (READ: Duterte to De Lima: ‘It’s beyond your control’)

Duterte has accused De Lima, a former justice secretary, of having a hand in the proliferation of illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison.

The Senate committee on public order eyes amending the Anti-Wiretapping Law to exclude drug pushers and suspects. In discussing the merits of the bill, De Lima said she supports strengthening prosecution, but such should be done without endangering the rights of private citizens.

Emphasizing the need to “strike a healthy balance,” the senator said the general populace should not be subjected to “tyranny of unlawful intrusion to private affairs.”

“’Di po p’wedeng one-sided. In our zeal to strengthen our law enforcers’ capabilities, nakakalimutan natin respetuhin ang rights to privacy na wala na hong legitimate purpose ‘yung paggamit ng wiretapping na ito kung hindi tama ang paggamit ng batas,” she said.

(We shoud not be one-sided. In our zeal to strengthen our law enforcers’ capabilities, we are forgetting to respect the rights to privacy of the people. There is no longer legitimate purpose in wiretapping if the law is not properly applied.)

Who’s to blame?

In response to the senator, PNP chief Dela Rosa claimed he also suspects that his mobile phone is being tapped – something that seemingly left De Lima unconvinced.

“If that is true, assuming Director General Dela Rosa na totoo rin po ‘yan na naka-tap ang cellphone ‘nyo, sino kaya gagawa noon? Kasi ‘yun ang susunod kong itatanong, the senator told Dela Rosa. (If it’s true that your cellphone is indeed true, who do you think would do that? Because that’s my next question.)

Without revealing the identities of her sources or the alleged perpetrators, De Lima recalled how people on the ground would warn her of wiretapping on her private conversations.

“Granting my suspicion – it’s just people on the ground telling me that my phones have long been tapped – but my attitude always is I don’t care. They can listen to all of it. Anyway I’m not violating the law. I’m not the one violating the rights of others,” she said.

The President earlier threatened to release an alleged sex video of the senator, whom he called “immoral” for supposedly having an affair with her married driver Ronnie Dayan.

Duterte also revealed that he was able to listen to a private conversation of the senator and Dayan.

Dela Rosa, for his part, claimed that the PNP has no control over the technology, as he pinned the blame on foreigners.

“We have no control over technology. Meron din tayo foreigners na merong technology na ganun. Wala tayong control sa kanila. (We have foreigners who have that technology. We have no control over them.) They can monitor our conversation from far away place. ‘Yun ang problema natin (That’s our problem),” he told De Lima.

In a separate response to Senator Lacson, Dela Rosa maintained that the police have no technical capability to intercept communication. “Right now, none. How I wish we have that capability.”

But Lacson, a former PNP chief himself, was doubtful: “I know there is an equipment that is capable of recording and jamming, kaya nagulat ako kay General Bato nang sabihin na wala silang kakayahan (that’s why I was surprised when General Bato said they have no capability).” –