Justice Secretary slams senator: My right to privacy was violated

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Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre says the act done against him violates the Anti-Wiretapping Law. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 12) — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre said Tuesday his right to privacy was violated when he was photographed during a Senate hearing sending text messages to speed up cases against a senator.

In a statement, Aguirre condemned the “blatant disregard” of his Constitutional rights after the picture was released by Sen. Risa Hontiveros in a privilege speech Monday.

“Text messages are private communications. Any unauthorized intrusion into such exchanges is illegal and betrays the Constitution,” Aguirre said.

Aguirre also called out Hontiveros, who showed the enhanced photograph of his text message, saying her actions were unethical and unbecoming of a public servant.

“That a public servant will conveniently resort to the protective mantle of a privilege speech makes it more despicable and diabolical,” he pointed out.

The senator said she got hold of the text message from a someone in the gallery during the Sept. 5 hearing on the killing of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos by the police. Aguirre was a resource speaker in the hearing.

Based on the picture, Aguirre was exchanging messages with a certain “Cong. Jing,” which Hontiveros presumed was former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto “Jing” Paras, a member of advocacy group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).

Paras allegedly told Aguirre: "Naturuan na ni Hontiveros ang testigo [Hontiveros has already taught the witness]. Her questions are leading questions."

The Justice Secretary was captured replying, "'Yan nga sinasabi ko dito [This was what I was talking about]. Very obvious. Kaya nga expedite natin ang cases ninyo versus her [This is why we need to expedite your case against her]."

Read more: Senator calls on Justice Secretary to step down amid threat of cases

The VACC, a known Aguirre ally, previously went to Hontiveros to take two underaged witnesses in Kian’s case from her custody.

Violated the anti-wiretapping law

In his statement, the Justice Secretary said the act of unauthorized prying into an exchange of private messages and making these public is a violation of Republic Act 4200, or the Anti-Wiretapping Law.

“Nobody but nobody, should be allowed to profit from committing an unconstitutional and an illegal act, not even a Senator of the Republic,” Aguirre said.

He also called out the photographer behind the controversial image, saying shame on him.

“In exchange for a news item for which you cannot and will not claim authorship and responsibility, you prostituted yourself,” he charged.

The Anti-Wiretapping Law prohibits the recording, interception, or overhearing of private communication, as well as furnishing transcripts of recorded messages without permission from the parties concerned.

The law however does not penalize wiretapping in crimes of treason, espionage, provoking war and disloyalty in case of war, piracy, mutiny in the high seas, rebellion, conspiracy and proposal to commit rebellion, and sedition, if they are ordered by a court.

'I will not resign'

On Hontiveros’ call for the Justice Secretary to resign, Aguirre said it is only the President who can accept his resignation.

“(L)et me say for the nth time that for as long as I have the trust and for as long as I enjoy the confidence of President Duterte who appointed me, I will continue serving our people as the steward of your (Department of Justice),” he said.

The hashtag #AguirreResign also trended on social media after the incident drew ire from netizens.

In a statement, senators from the minority bloc also called for the Justice Secretary’s resignation, saying “his actions signify a lack of competence for a man who holds the highest office on justice”.