Seares: That wiretap charge: Risa’s defense

THESE may not be disputed by Sen. Risa Hontiveros who has been sued for wire-tapping, among other charges, by former congressman Jacinto Paras of Negos Oriental:

u25a0 Last Sept. 11, the senator disclosed before the Senate some text messages between Jing Paras and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, allegedly “plotting” to “expedite” the cases against her. She feared she’d suffer the fate of Sen. Leila de Lima who has been jailed on drug-related cases that DOJ investigated.

u25a0 Photo shots of the messages were taken “inadvertently,” she said, during a Sept. 5 hearing of the Senate public order committee on the death of drug suspect Kian de los Santos in Caloocan City, one of at least five teenage casualties in the anti-illegal drugs campaign.

Does law apply?

The charge of violating the Anti-wiretapping Law raises this basic question: Does Republic Act #4200 apply to intercepting and publicizing text messages?

When the law was approved on June 19, 1965, text messaging was still not used in the country, not until 1991 or 26 years later. Yet, the essential elements of the law are there. Consider:

-- The secret recording and intercepting, though it might not have been done by Risa or upon her order;

-- While there was no spoken word in the Aguirre-Paras conversation, the law applies to “any private communication.”

-- The senator possessed a copy of the “illegal” material and used it to complain to the Senate.

Reason for law

The law was reportedly intended by its author, the late senator Lorenzo Tañada, “to stop spying of public officials on one another.”

In this case, it’s not known if Risa had anything to do with the interception of the messages. But she used them as basis for her Senate complaint.

While Tañada meant the law to foil spying among public officials, R.A.#4200 also applies to private citizens. In Cebu years ago, a businessman fled abroad after he was charged with wire-tapping. He had admitted he eavesdropped on a phone conversation between two other persons, which he later exposed.


Most likely, Hontiveros will use these defenses:

[1] She didn’t know it was illegally obtained, believing in good faith that since it was a public event and open to all devices, recording of conversation and images within the room was fair game; and

[2] She committed no crime as no lawmaker could be held to answer for any speech or debate in Congress. She might be haled to the ethics committee but she had high motive as it involved a possible abuse of power, with a senator of the land as would-be victim. They can’t hold her liable for libel; the immunity holds as well against the wiretap law. Same constitutional precept.

Other charges

There are other charges, to be sure, including kidnapping. They are not related to her speech in the Senate but are linked to her efforts to protect witnesses in the killing of de los Santos by the police.

Many believe the villains in the controversy over the teenager’s death don’t include the senator. And they have a word for prosecuting her: “rubbish.”


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