MANILA – Philippine Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Monday, October 2, filed a wiretapping complaint against Senator Risa Hontiveros in connection with the controversial capture of his phone message.

In his complaint before the Pasay City prosecutor’s office, Aguirre said Hontiveros violated Republic Act 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Act when she publicized his exchange of text messages with a former congressman last month.

The justice secretary said he would also file a separate ethics complaint against the senator over the same leaked messages.

Last month, Hontiveros released a photo of Aguirre which was “inadvertently” taken by a photojournalist during a Senate probe on September 5.

In the photo, the justice secretary can be seen texting a certain “Cong Jing,” who, according to Hontiveros, is Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) member and former Negros Oriental Representative Jacinto “Jing” Paras.

“Naturuan na ni Hontiveros yung testigo (Hontiveros already coached the witnesses). Her questions are leading questions,” Paras’ message to Aguirre read.

Aguirre was seen typing a reply on his phone: “’Yon nga sinasabi ko kanina dito. Very obvious. Kaya expedite natin ang cases ninyo vs her. (That’s what I’m saying. Very obvious. So let’s expedite your cases against her.)”

But contrary to the senator’s claim, Aguirre insisted that the messages were captured “intentionally, maliciously and unlawfully.”

“It was never an inadvertent act, contrary to the claim of Sen. Risa Hontiveros in her privilege speech. I was targeted, I was singled out and it was premeditated,” he said.

He added, “The precise timing of the taking or shooting of the photograph, the accuracy of the detail of the image taken and the strategically chosen vantage point all indicate that the media person being referred to intentionally focused his camera or her camera and used the same with the intention to intercept and capture my private text message.”

Aguirre likewise challenged Hontiveros to present the journalist who supposedly took the photo.

He condemned the incident, calling it a “shameless violation of a citizen’s right to the privacy of communication.”

For her part, the senator reiterated that there was no intent to tap or intercept the justice secretary’s messages.

Hontiveros also pointed out that his complaint “confirms the conspiracy hatched by Secretary Aguirre and his VACC to ‘expedite’ the filing of cases against [her].”

She added that the case likewise confirmed that the “Cong. Jing” whom Secretary Aguirre was texting was former Representative Jacinto Paras.

“Caught red handed and still making excuses. He wants to hide behind baseless allegations,” the senator said, calling Aguirre’s move “a desperate attempt to deflect public attention.”

Last week, Paras also lodged a wiretapping complaint against Hontiveros.

‘Yellows’ intensifying ouster plot

In a statement on Tuesday, October 3, Aguirre claimed that the “yellows” — likely referring to the supporters of the opposition — have intensified its campaign to oust Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

“They, the yellows, are intensifying the actions against the president,” the justice secretary told reporters.

The color “yellow,” and similar terms like “dilawan” and “yellowtards,” have been associated with the allies and members of the Liberal Party (LP), the political party of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, which took the current role of opposition.

Aguirre claimed that the corruption allegations against Duterte and his family are supposedly part of the opposition’s black propaganda.

The justice secretary made the claim days after the Office of the Ombudsman announced that they are investigating the accusations of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV that the president and his family had billions-worth of ill-gotten wealth.

Aguirre also disclosed that the Department of Justice (DOJ) is looking into local and foreign bank accounts of “yellow” personalities.

“We have dug these bank accounts of opposition personalities, mostly ‘dilaw,’” Aguirre told reporters, without providing specifics.

The LP, in response, decried Aguirre’s move as a “threat of persecution.”

“We consider the threat of persecution – especially from a Secretary whose resignation we have openly called for – a sorry, hardly unbiased attempt to divert the public’s attention away from these issues,” the LP said in a statement.

The LP had repeatedly denied allegations of any ouster plot against Duterte. It further maintained that its members and allies had always adhered to its core values of integrity and people-centeredness.

“These values compel us to speak up on issues such as the drug smuggling and corruption allegations against those close to the president and the murder of minors and innocents by instruments of the state, among others,” it added.

Last month, the Senate minority bloc, dominated by LP members, reiterated its call for Aguirre to resign from his post over his supposed “unethical actions as a public official” and “propensity for spreading fake information on those he tagged as ‘dilawan,’” among others.

Senate minority bloc members include Trillanes of the Nacionalista Party (NP); and Senators Franklin Drilon, Francis Pangilinan, Benigno Paulo “Bam” Aquino IV, Leila De Lima, and Hontiveros—all of whom are members of the LP.

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