Sunday July 22, 2018

Seares: Did Hontiveros violate wire-tap law?

“Why is the justice secretary invoking the Anti-Wire Tapping Law? Is he admitting that the text conversation is real?”
-- Sen. Risa Hontiveros, Sept. 13, 2017

DID Sen. Ana Theresia Hontiveros tap the text messaging between Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and a former congressman? Did she “secretly” peer over, “intercept” or “record” the text conversation between the two men?

She did not. An unidentified video or still photographer did but the result must not have been intended. Secretary Aguirre, a public figure, was a key personality at the Sept. 5 Senate hearing on the P6.4-billion shabu smuggled through the Bureau of Customs. He was fair target for photos in a public setting and event.

Nobody could’ve been eavesdropping. Aguirre was probably just being reckless. Adept at covering his ears at the Corona impeachment trial in 2012, he was clumsy in shielding his phone from prying eyes.

Possession, use

But Senator Risa did “knowingly” keep the content of the text message, which said Aguirre and the congressman should speed up their moves against the senator. Risa did “communicate” the message and reply, knowing that it was intercepted.

It’s not the kind envisioned by R.A. #4200. Not done by eavesdropping device, which records a conversation with the consent of all parties. The wire-tap law law was passed on June 19, 1965, some 27 years before people started using text messages (in 1992).

Yet, R.A. #4200 also specifies “private communication,” which may apply to SMS material. Though in this case, it was most likely legally obtained and disclosed by the senator for a valid and lawful reason. Did Risa breach confidentiality within the meaning of the wire-tap law? Apparently not, though Aguirre might push the question in court.


But the issue at the moment is whether the senator was justified in using confidential communication to expose what she saw as an aberration of justice: a DOJ secretary “plotting” with an ex-congressman on how to take a senator down.

One incongruity after another.

First, it was incongruous that a DOJ chief would be working with an anti-crime group leader on how to frustrate the prosecution of abusive police accused of killing a crime suspect.

Second, it was incongruous that the tandem would be talking about fast-tracking the reprisal against the senator who could be protecting witnesses to a murder against possible tampering by the police.


Awkward even if not surprising from a justice secretary who may have bungled a few times more than his high position allows.

And disturbing, when taken with other moves to suppress dissent to the spate of killings of drug suspects in the country.