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Opposition senators claim staff, LP emails hacked

Camille Elemia
Opposition senators claim staff, LP emails hacked
(UPDATED) Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV presents screenshots to show hackers seemingly planting evidence to link the opposition to 'imaginary' destabilization plots

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED0 – Opposition senators claimed some of their staff’s email addresses were hacked, as well as that of the Liberal Party.

In a statement, Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon and Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Francis Pangilinan, Antonio Trillanes IV, and Risa Hontiveros said they are “seriously concerned” about the hacking incidents.

They said the email addresses of Pangilinan’s and Aquino’s staff were hacked, including the former’s official email address for releasing statements to the media.

They also said the LP’s official email for media statements was also compromised.

“The nature of the breach in all instances is the same: Unauthorized users sent emails using the staff and party addresses,” they said.

The senators said they have reported previous incidents to the National Bureau of Investigation but has yet to get updates on the matter. They said they are now seeking the help of Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III to investigate it.

Pimentel is a party mate and staunch ally of President Rodrigo Duterte.

“We seek the help of the Senate President and the Senate sergeant-at-arms to look into the matter and to secure the services of experts,” they said.

Destabilization?

The minority bloc suspected that the hacking is meant to plant supposed evidence to blame the opposition for “imaginary destabilization attempts.”

“Fake news has escalated to fake e-mails and digitally planted evidence,” Aquino said.

In a press conference, Aquino revealed that at least 5 email accounts, some of his staff and others of Pangilinan, were compromised between March 21 and October 11 and were used to send “falsified” emails to other people.

He said the first incident was discovered on March 21 when one of Pangilinan’s staff saw a draft message entitled “The investigation on DDS,” which was not written by the staff. 

On September 7, the hacker sent an email to the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS) from another account. The subject indicated that the message was an “emergency inquiry from office of Sen. Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan.

Another incident was recorded on September 26 when one of Aquino’s staff saw a questionable email in the drafts folder. The subject was a “leaked media plan to destroy PRRD” and was addressed to Pangilinan and Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon.

On October 11, a hacker sent an email to Aquino’s staff with the subject “list of expenses of last month’s office supplies.” The email had an attachment but has no content when opened.

Ang tingin natin (In our view), this is already a virus or program to get whatever information,” Aquino said.

Aquino said most of the IP addresses were traced to the Senate Wi-Fi, and at least one was tracked to the United States.

“These are cause for concern as Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre spearheaded the creation of the Citizen National Guard, which says that dissent is destabilization,” they said.

“Let us be clear. There is no destabilization plot. Dissent is not destabilization. Dissent is indispensable in a democracy,” the senators added.

Duterte and his allies have repeatedly claimed that the “yellows,” associated with the Liberal Party and the Aquino administration, are plotting against the President – even afer the categorical denial of Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana and other security officials that such a plot existed. – Rappler.com

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Camille Elemia

Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation issues, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email camille.elemia@rappler.com