MANILA - Senator Risa Hontiveros on Wednesday challenged Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre to answer allegations that he is conspiring with the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption to file cases against the opposition.
Speaking to ANC's Headstart, Hontiveros said the justice chief has not categorically answered her accusation that he was caught on camera texting a member of the VACC to expedite cases against her during a Senate hearing.
"The Secretary has, until this morning, not categorically addressed the real question: totoo bang nahulihan siya, caught in the act plotting against a sitting senator during a Senate hearing right in the Senate session hall? Totoo ba o hinding nahuli siyang nakikipag-kontsabahan sa isang grupo na harass-in ang oposisyon?" she said.
Hontiveros also dared Aguirre and the VACC to file the cases against her. "I’ll see him in court," she said.
The senator earlier challenged the justice chief to resign, saying he is using his position to harass opposition senators by threatening them with lawsuits. She showed a photo of the secretary supposedly exchanging text messages with a certain "Cong. Jing," asking to "expedite" the filing of cases against her.
The “Cong. Jing” Aguirre was texting, said Hontiveros, could be former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto “Jing” Paras, who she said is a member of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC).
Aguirre, however, said he will not step down and called Hontiveros' action a violation of his right to privacy. He also said revealing his private text messages was a violation of the Anti-Wiretapping Law.
Hontiveros, however, noted that there was no violation of privacy or even a violation of the Anti-Wiretapping Law.
"Ang malinaw na cino-cover ng batas na tinutukoy niya ay yung deliberate at knowing interception ng private communications," she said.
"Hindi sinasadya ng random photographer na nakuhaan niya sa litrato ng lahat ng personalities, nakuhaan din niya ng litrato si Secretary na inadvertently din ang linaw na nang i-enlarge niya yung photo na iyon yung text message ni Secretary."
"Para yang accidentally overhearing someone in a room talking loudly, carelessly. Walang paglabag sa karapatan yan," she added.
She also said Aguirre did not confirm or deny the authenticity of the supposed content of the text messages.
"Bakit siya nagpo-protesta na nilabag yung privacy niya? May sina-cite pa siyang batas. Is he therefore confirming na totoo yung text messages na iyan?" she said.
"Dun sa napakahaba niyang sagot yesterday, 5 pages ba yun, he seemed to neither confirm nor deny kung totoo yung communications pero dinivert niya, nag-counter-attack siya na paglabag daw sa karapatan niya."
She said some of Aguirre's supporters also alleged the purported exchange was "fake."
"If they are fake messages, why should I be accused of illegally intercepting them? Ano ba talaga ang kuwento? Totoo ba yan o hindi totoo?" she said.
Hontiveros said Aguirre cannot sue the photographer who sent her the photo because the latter is protected by law.
"The photographer is protected (by law) dahil tulad ko na sadyang walang makuha yung ganiyang photo, lalo na siya, wala siyang sadyang makuhang photo ng private text ng mga tao. He was just taking photos of all the personalities in the hearing," she said.
"Hindi covered ng batas na sina-cite ni Secretary, which speaks of knowingly and deliberately intercepting private communication. Hindi ko ginawa yun at lalong hindi yun ginawa ng photographer," she added.
Hontiveros said while it would be normal for friends to tell each other offhand remarks, Aguirre's and Paras' positions and the subject of their conversation makes the text messages "unethical."
"Kasi sabi nitong Cong. Jing na tinuruan ni Hontiveros, leading questions. Cinonfirm ni Secretary. So inaakusahan niya ako na minamanipula yung witness," she said.
"Lalong hindi ordinaryo yung pinag-uusapan nila kasi ineengganyo ni Secretary na ‘Bilisan nyo ang pag-file ng kaso laban sa kaniya.’ That is so improper," she added.
The Secretary of Justice, she said, is the highest justice and law official, whose office decides if there is probable cause against the accused and if it should therefore move forward.
"There he was, naglulutong-Macau, ineengganyo yung isang grupo, ‘File-an niyo ng kaso ito,’ and then darating sa opisina niya—siya ang magdedesisyon kung tuloy ba yang kaso o hindi. Napaka-unethical," said Hontiveros.
The senator said she wanted Aguirre to resign based on his inappropriate and unethical behavior.
"I called on him to resign dahil sa kaniyang unethical behavior as a member of the civil service, dahil meron kaming code of conduct of public employees and officials," she said.
"I also called on him to resign dahil nilalapastangan niya yung mga sinasabing parliamentary immunity ayon sa Konstitusyon—that legislators, let alone citizens, should be free from harassment and suits in the pursuit on the one hand of our legislative duties."