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Drilon defends Hontiveros; Palace tags her a ‘meddler’

SENATE Minority Leader Franklin M. Drilon dismissed Wednesday the pronouncement of Justice Secretary Vitaliano III that Senator Risa Hontiveros could be prosecuted under the Anti Wiretapping Law for making public his text messages with an anti-crime group.

“Senator Hontiveros did not violate any provision of the Anti-Wiretapping Law, nor did she infringe on the right to privacy when she delivered a privilege speech last Monday,” Drilon stressed. 

Aside from the fact that Hontiveros’ speech is covered by parliamentary immunity, “there was no interference or wiretapping as contemplated under RA 4200 or the Anti Wiretapping Law,” he added. 

“It is clear from the records of plenary debates on the Anti-Wiretapping Law that the sponsor and the legislators intended to punish the interference or recording of private conversations, which tend to be ‘dragnet’ in character as to amount to surveillance,” said Drilon.

In Malacañang, President Rodrigo Duterte told Hontiveros not to meddle with the private conversations of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre, who was caught on camera reportedly plotting a case against her. 

“When two persons talk and you are not a party to it, do not draw conclusions of what they are talking about. For all you know, what the fools are talking about were on women,” Duterte said, as he defended his Justice secretary. 

In a privilege speech Monday, Hontiveros said she discovered Aguirre’s plot against her through a photo taken last Sept. 5 during a Senate public order committee hearing on the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos where Aguirre was one of the resource persons present.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II                                   Senator Risa Hontiveros

Aguirre was caught on camera texting former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto “Jing” Paras, a member of the pro-administration Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption of the need to “expedite” the cases against Hontiveros.

Duterte, however, branded her allegations as “naive” and should not be given value. 

The President added he did not know of any move to file cases against the lady senator, since he had many other things to deal with. 

In the exchange of text messages, Aguirre allegedly told Cong. Jing to expedite their case against Hontiveros.

What’s worse, Hontiveros said, was that Aguirre was caught sending the message while the Senate probe into the death of Kian was ongoing.

Aguirre had emphasized that since the photo was inadvertently taken, it could not be considered as surveillance.

“It also bears saying that during the interpellations of the bill filed by Senator Panfilo Lacson expanding the anti-wiretapping law, the author clarified that his bill intends to expand the law to prohibit taking screen shots or still pictures of communications, which only means that currently, the act of taking screen shots or still pictures is not considered wiretapping,” Drilon stressed.

He also said that there could be no violation of privacy “if there is no reasonable expectation of privacy.” 

“When there is no clear effort to limit visibility of the messages in a public space, then there is no reasonable expectation of privacy,” explained Drilon, noting the Senate Session Hall was a public space, of which photographers are a regular fixture.

The minority leader also pointed out the fact that the speech of Hontiveros was covered by parliamentary immunity under Article VI, Sec. 11 of the Constitution, which states in part that “No Member shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committee thereof.” 

“Supreme Court cases and deliberations of the Constitutional Commission are unequivocal on this point,” Drilon said. 

“The framers wanted to make sure that members of Congress can express their opinions, cast their votes without fear of previous restraint or subsequent punishment.” 

Meanwhile, Hontiveros cited the need for Aguirre to open a dictionary and review the meaning of “decency” as she scored him for trying to skirt the issue after being caught in a plot against her.

She also noted that by trying to skirt the issue with long statements and convoluted legal arguments Aguirre just confirmed what she said was the authenticity of his text conversation caught inadvertently by somebody’s camera. 

“Why is the Justice Secretary invoking the Anti-Wiretapping Law? Is he admitting too that the text conversation is real?” she asked. 

“She accuses me of indecency and being unethical,” said the oppositon senator, who called for Aguirre’s resignation. 

“There is nothing more indecent and unethical than being caught red-handed plotting against a senator during a Senate hearing inside the Senate,” she said.

The Akbayan senator also rejected Aguirre’s assertion of her violation of his privacy. She pointed out there was no intent to tap or intercept his messages. 

She said the law is clear. “What is prohibited is willfully and knowingly committing any acts constituting wiretapping. What happened can simply be likened to overhearing a conversation by a careless person talking loudly in public.” 

“In this case, it was a text conversation, which was inadverdently caught by someone’s camera lens.”

“And why is Secretary Aguirre suddenly a protector of the right to privacy when he wantonly disregarded this when he unnecessarily made public Senator Leila de Lima’s personal life and even threatened to show her fake sex videos? “ she also asked.

Hontiveros said she found it funny that some of his defenders said that the text conversation was fake. “If that is the case, how can I or the person who accidentally took the picture be liable for wiretapping a fake text conversation?”

She added: “Clearly, Secretary Aguirre is shooting blanks.... With his long explanations, he failed to answer the simple question—was the text conversation true or not—where he was caught conniving with a group to file charges against the opposition. That is the real issue here.”

Aguirre was caught on camera, texting a member of the pro-administration Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption of the need to “expedite” the cases against Hontiveros.

She said an enhanced version of the photo, given to her by a spectator during the Senate session, showed Aguirre’s exchange of text message with a certain “Cong. Jing,” whom the senator later identified as former Negros Oriental representative Jacinto “Jing” Paras.

In the exchange of text messages, Aguirre allegedly told Paras to expedite their case against Hontiveros.

Topics: Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon , Secretary Vitaliano III , Senator Risa Hontiveros
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