MANILA, Philippines – Former Negros Oriental representative Jacinto "Jing" Paras said on Tuesday, September 12, that Senator Risa Hontiveros was liable for wiretapping for presenting during a privilege speech at the Senate a purported text exchange between a "Cong Jing" and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
Paras, however, did not confirm or deny the text message. Aguirre has not responded to reporters' request for comment.
"I could not recall ever receiving one as I receive so many texts daily and I erase them at the end of the day. But the contents of the text is not the issue here, it is the act of Hontiveros violating the law on the anti-wiretapping," Paras told Rappler in a text message on Tuesday.
Hontiveros showed a photo at the Senate on Monday, September 11, taken by a photojournalist where Aguirre was caught on camera texting a "Cong Jing" to expedite the cases against the senator. Hontiveros said "Cong Jing" may be Paras, a lawyer for the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC). (READ: FULL TEXT: Hontiveros asks justice secretary Aguirre to resign)
"Is that photojournalist willing to stand and face a wiretapping violation? He was secretly recording a private communication without being authorized, and used it by allowing Hontiveros to make use of it, then they can be liable of wiretapping," said Paras, citing Section 1 of Republic Act 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Law.
Section 1 of the law says "it shall be unlawful for any person not being authorized by all the parties to any private communication or spoken word" to "record such communication or spoken word by using a device commonly known as a dictaphone or dictagraph or detectaphone or walkie-talkie or tape recorder, or however otherwise described."
In the text message presented by Hontiveros, "Cong Jing" texted Aguirre during a Senate hearing on September 5 on the Kian delos Santos case: "Naturuan na ni Hontiveros yung testigo (Hontiveros already coached the witnesses). Her questions are leading questions."
In the photo, Aguirre replied: "'Yon nga sinasabi ko kanina dito. Very obvious. Kaya expedite natin ang cases ninyo vs her." (That's what I'm saying. Very obvious. So let's expedite your cases against her.)
Hontiveros said the message was inadvertently caught by the photojournalist covering the Senate hearing on September 5, where Aguirre was one of the resource persons.
"She is the one undermining the justice system by using her position as senator in violating the law RA 4200, the anti-wiretapping law," Paras said.
A lawyer source, however, notes the law does not mention a photograph as a device for wiretapping.
"Photography cannot be held to be covered by the law, under the principle of Expressio unius est exclusio alterius (or literally, Items not on the list are deemed excluded by the law)," said the lawyer.
The lawyer added: "One can argue that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in the context of the hearing, where what the DOJ secretary was doing could be easily seen by so many journalists present…There was no intent to tap – his mobile screen was merely inadvertently caught by someone's camera lens. There was no intention to wiretap or intercept his messages. In other words, there was no intent to violate his right to privacy, assuming such right may be invoked under the circumstances of that public hearing."
Delos Santos case
Asked if the VACC will indeed file a case against Hontiveros, Paras said: "Wala pa naman (None so far), although she has already been violating her position as senator."
Paras was referring to Hontiveros' previous custody of 3 witnesses, one of them a minor, in the Delos Santos case. Aguirre and the Public Attorney's Office (PAO) wanted to take over the custody, saying that only the Department of Justice (DOJ) through the Witness Protection Program (WPP) could provide protection to the witnesses.
"[Hontiveros] committed obstruction of justice when she continued custody of witnesses to a murder despite being demanded to turn over these witnesses by the appropriate agency investigating and prosecuting the case," Paras said.
It was Paras who went to Caloocan Bishop Pablo Virgilio David's residence on Saturday, September 9, to try to get custody of the witnesses. They were turned over to David by Hontiveros after the Senate committee on public order and dangerous drugs ruled the witnesses were no longer required to appear in their hearing.
David said the VACC with Paras and personnel of the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) came to his residence with the witnesses' father, who had just posted bail for a drug case. David said the group told him the father wanted to take his children with them. After discussions, the father eventually decided to stay in the Church's custody.
Hontiveros had called on Aguirre to resign for violating the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees. Paras said if ever a case is filed against Hontiveros, it would be filed before the Office of the Ombudsman and not the DOJ.
"She is also wrong to accuse Secretary Aguirre of violating the ethical standard for public officials," Paras added.
Hontiveros has not responded to Rappler's request for comment as of posting time.
Paras was purportedly one of the so-called "Gang of Five" at the House of Representatives back in his day. He, along with former representatives Aniceto Saludo Jr, Eduardo Veloso, Rolex Suplico, and Prospero Pichay, were accused of receiving payoffs to delay the House inquiry into telecommunications companies Globe and Smart over the free text issue in 2001. – Rappler.com