De Lima, Lacson agree to amending anti-wiretapping law for war on drugs

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) – Senators Leila De Lima and Panfilo Lacson said on Thursday that they want the half-century-old anti-wiretapping law updated to help combat drug-related crimes.

The proposal to amend the anti-wiretapping law came from Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and top Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) officials during the Senate hearing on President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

Aguirre told the Committee on Public Order and Dangerous Drugs that high-profile prisoners at New Bilibid Prison were using cellphones to run their drug operations. However, Aguirre said authorities are not allowed to intercept their communications because the law does not cover drug offenses.

Under Republic Act 4200 or the "Anti-Wiretapping Law," which was passed in 1965, law enforcers are allowed to wiretap private communications  in relation to cases of treason, espionage, rebellion or sedition and kidnapping – but only with a court order. In line with Art. 3, Sec. 3 of the 1987 Constitution, illegally wiretapped communications are inadmissible as evidence in court.

Sen. De Lima cautioned that any amendment to the law must strike a balance between two objectives: the detection and prevention of criminality and the security of private communications.

"A balance between the two (is needed) in order to empower law-enforcement authorities, but without subjecting the populace to the tyranny of unlawful intrusion into private affairs," De Lima said. "Hindi po pwede maging one-sided ang maging track natin na in our zeal to really strengthen our law-enforcement capabilities ay nakakalimutan po natin respetuhin ang mga karapatan, especially the rights of privacy, na wala na hong legitimate purpose yung paggamit ng wiretapping na ito."

[Translation: We cannot have a one-track mind, such that in our zeal to really strengthen our law-enforcement capabilities, we forget to respect rights, especially the rights of privacy, even when there is no legitimate purpose to the wiretapping.]

Meanwhile, Sen. De Lima and Lacson pushed to lower the standards of evidence to wiretap private communications. They said this will allow for faster investigation and prosecution of suspects.

"Yung PDEA, ang position ninyo (as the standard to apply for a court order to wiretap) is mere suspicion and I see your point [PDEA's position is mere suspicion as the standard of evidence to apply for a court order to wiretap and I see your point]," Lacson said. "They don't need a court order because once they've established probable cause, they'll just arrest the perpetrators or the offenders."

In response, Aguirre said the Justice Department would be happy with a standard of evidence above mere suspicion and below probable cause.