MANILA, Philippines – Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros has asked Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to resign for his "unethical conduct."
In privilege speech delivered Monday afternoon, September 11, Hontiveros took Aguirre to task for texting somebody during a recent Senate hearing. The screen of Aguirre's mobile phone was inadvertenty caught by a photojournalist's camera. It showed the justice secretary telling a member of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption to expedite their complaints against Hontiveros.
Hontiveros pointed out that if cases are filed against her, it would be Aguirre's office that will determine probable cause – a possibility for lutong macau (fixed results).
Here is the full text of her speech:
Mr. President, I rise on a point of personal and collective privilege.
I rise to bring to your attention the unethical conduct of an official of the Executive branch of government.
Noong Martes, September 5, ay ginanap sa ilalim ng Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs ang pangalawang hearing patungkol sa karimarimarim na pagpatay kay Kian Lloyd de los Santos ng police operatives ng Caloocan City.
Sa hearing na ito, isa sa mga resource speakers ang DOJ Secretary na si Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre. Marami pong mga media at audience sa gallery noong araw na yon, gawa nga na napakahalaga ang pinaguusapan. Ang isa sa mga ito ay nakakuha ng photo ni Secretary Aguirre, ito po ang photo niya na nagtetext….
Sa unang tingin, walang kakaiba sa larawang ito, lahat naman tayo ay napapasilip-silip sa cellphone sa gitna ng senate hearing. Ngunit, nabahala ang kumuha nung in-enlarge niya ang larawan ni Ginoong Aguirre. The photographer was inadvertently able to capture the text message exchange on the screen of the phone of the DOJ Secretary.
Babasahin ko po ang nakalagay. “TEXT SA KANYA NG KAUSAP NIYA: Naturuan na ni Hontiveros ang testigo. Her questions are leading questions. REPLY NI SEC. AGUIRRE:Yon nga sinasabi ko dito. Very obvious. Kaya nga expedite natin ang cases niyo vs her.”
'Pinasuri po namin ang larawan sa mga experts at pinatotohanan nila ang authenticity nito.
Ang katext po ni Sec. Aguirre ay isang Cong. Jing. Sa akin pong pagtatanong-tanong, nasabi sa akin na malamang sa malamang, ang Cong. Jing na tinutukoy ay si Former Negros Oriental Representative Jacinto “Jing” Paras, na miyembro ng Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) at kilala ng marami sa atin. Matatandaan na ang grupong ito ang nag-file ng impeachment case laban kay Chief Justice Sereno, at nag-announce na magfafile din ng impeachment laban kay Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. Kabilang din sa VACC si Atty. Ferdinand “Ferdie” Topacio.
Noong nakaraang Huwebes nga, si former Rep. Paras at si Atty Ferdie Topacio ay sumugod sa opisina ko para bawiin ang mga witnesses na nasa poder ni Bishop David, gamit ang tatay na pinalaya mula sa Caloocan City Jail. This despite the consent letters we have from the witness’s mother in Oman, from her 22-year-old sister, and from the father himself. Nagsinungaling pa sila sa media na hindi daw ipinaalam sa tatay ang pagkupkop sa anak nito, gayung hawak namin ang pruweba na hindi lang sa sinangguni ang tatay, ang anak niya mismo ang nagpaalam sa kanya na kay bishop maglalagi. Noong Sabado ng gabi nga, sumugod sila sa Bishop’s Residence sa Caloocan para kunin ang mga witness na menor de edad, gamit ang tatay na inilabas sa preso. Laking gulat nila noong ang bitbit nilang tatay na akala nila ay alas nila ay bumaligtad at nagsabing sasama na rin siya kay Bishop David, at tatalikuran ang CIDG at VACC. Sayang, madami pa naman matitino sa VACC kagaya ni Boy Evangelista. Ngunit ang marami sa kanila ay pumayag na maging kasangkapan sa pagsisinungaling ng administrasyong ito.
Pawang kasinungalingan, Mr. President.
Kaya nga po, Mr. President, ako po ay lubos na nababahala.
First of all, by saying tinuruan ko ang testigo, is Secretary Aguirre accusing me of witness manipulation? Iyan po ay isang napakalaking akusasyon. I would like to know exactly what part of the testimony of the witness MC did not pass the bar of truth of the good Secretary?
What part of it did he think was a product of my manipulation? Sa totoo lang, the testimony of the witness was consistent with the findings of the ballistic exam, and with the post-mortem report of both PAO and the PNP crime lab. She did not implicate anyone surprising. Or name any perpetrators beyond those already suspended.
Moreover, the DOJ is handling the case filed by the NBI which relied upon the testimonies of these witnesses. Ang sinasabi ba niya ay itong witnesses na ito ay minanipula, o tinuruan, gayung haharap ang mga witness na ito sa kanilang departamento para sa preliminary investigation? At best, Mr. President, this undermines the Bureau and the Department’s own work.
Second, Mr. President, is the DOJ Secretary plotting a case against a sitting Senator while a Senate proceeding is going on, right inside the Senate session hall? Habang tayo ay naghehearing para makamit natin ang katarungan para sa isang 17-year-old na pinatay ng pulis na nakadapa sa lupa, mukhang ang pinagkakaabalahan ng ating Justice secretary ay paano makaganti sa kanyang kalaban.
Mr. President, kung kaya ito gawin ng Justice Secretary sa isang sitting senator, ano pa kaya sa ibang mga mamamayang Pilipino? The culture of political vindictiveness that allows Justice Secretaries to make a mockery of justice springs from the same poisonous well as the culture of impunity that encourages policemen to plant evidence, fabricate stories about their targets, and become cold-blooded killers.
Hindi ako magtataka kung kung sa mga susunod na araw ay may mga kaso nang isasampa laban sa akin si Justice Secretary o ang kanyang mga galamay sa VACC. If the Justice Secretary wants to file cases against me, see you in court, Mr. Aguirre!
Third, Mr. President, I cannot help but think that this supports the growing perception that cases are being filed against members of the opposition in order to silence and harass us. Si Senator Leila, kinasuhan ng drug charges gamit ang mga testigo na convicted criminals – malinaw na paglabag sa batas hinggil sa state witnesses. I believe that public service is a public trust, and we public officials should be subjected to the highest scrutiny, but it seems to me that the motivation of the Secretary is not the pursuit of accountability, but the pursuit of political vendetta. Our laws on accountability should be weapons for truth and better governance, not weapons wielded against political opponents who do not toe the line.
Mr. President, parliamentary immunity as guaranteed in our Constitution is an essential part of our polity. To quote the words of the Supreme Court in the case of Pobre v. Defensor Santiago, “legislators are immune from deterrents to the uninhibited discharge of their legislative duties, not for their private indulgence, but for the public good.
The privilege would be of little value if they could be subjected to the cost and inconvenience and distractions of a trial upon a conclusion of the pleader, or to the hazard of a judgment against them based upon a judges speculation as to the motives.”
I am calling on my colleagues in the Senate: perhaps it is due time to review provisions of law – both in the Constitution and in the Revised Penal Code – on parliamentary immunities and privileges, and our right as well as the right of the people we represent to be protected from these baseless suits. Opposition legislators voted by the people are charged on the flimsiest of evidence. Criminal cases are being used as weapons by the executive against the legislative.
Let me spell out why the behavior of the Justice Secretary is so unethical, Mr. President and so unbecoming of a member of the civil service. Here is the Secretary of Justice, the head of the principal law agency of government, and whose functions include the prosecution of offenders. He has supervision and control over prosecutors who conduct preliminary investigations to determine whether or not there is probable cause against an accused. Kung sa simpleng lengwahe ng kalye, ang opisina niya ang nagpapasya kung tutuluyan ang kaso laban sa akusado. Anyone with that kind of power must hold himself to the highest standard of impartiality. But this is apparently not important to the good Secretary. Siya po ay nakikipagkuntsabahan sa isang grupo para magsampa ng kaso – kaso na opisina din niya ang magpapasya kung may probable cause o wala. There are no words, Mr. President, for this kind of lutong macau. There are no words!
Mr. President, hindi na bago sa atin ang kapalpakan ng Secretary of Justice. Hindi ba siya din ang nagkalat, nung kasagsagan ng pagbomba ng Marawi, na si Senator Bam and Sen. Trillanes ay nagpunta sa Marawi at nakipagpulong sa mga sangkot sa siege? Hindi ba opisina niya ang nagdowngrade ng kaso ng mga pulis na pumaslang kay Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa? Hindi ba siya ang nakipagkita kay Jack Lam sa isang hotel sa The Fort, bagamat si Jack Lam ay may mga hinaharap na kasong nakahain at iniimbestigahan?
All these lead me to the conclusion that there is no other respectable option but to call on the Justice Secretary to resign. He is in violation of Republic Act 6713, or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. To quote Section 4(b) of the said law, “Public officials and employees shall perform and discharge their duties with the highest degree of excellence, professionalism, intelligence and skill. They shall enter public service with utmost devotion and dedication to duty. They shall endeavor to discourage wrong perceptions of their roles as dispensers or peddlers of undue patronage.” Secretary Aguirre undermines our justice system, and his continued stay in office is a vulgar insult to the Filipino people and our efforts for a more just society.
Further, Mr. President, we must not allow attempts to thwart or diminish our constitutionally guaranteed right to parliamentary immunity. No legislator must be threatened with arrest or imprisonment for acts which she believes in good faith to be within the realm of the functions reposed in her by the Constitution. It is time we revisit the concept of parliamentary immunity from arrest to ensure that a legislator cannot be prevented from attending to his duty as a member of Congress. While there are indeed constitutional safeguards available to an accused by the Constitution and while these safeguards may constitute an obstacle to overreach and abuse of power by the prosecuting arm of the government, recent events have caused our reliance on such assurance irresolute. While the rights of an individual under the Constitution are vast, we need to examine whether these are adequate. If found wanting, then it is our duty to craft the appropriate measures to fill the gap.
Given Mr. President that at the heart of this issue I bring before the Senate is the ethical conduct of a government official, and considering that I am seeking the review of our Constitutional provisions on parliamentary immunity, I am respectfully moving to refer my speech to the Committees on Civil Service primarily, and to the Committee on Constitutional Amendments and Codes secondarily.