Aguirre hits back at Hontiveros, calls her 'unethical'

MANILA, Philippines – Skirting the issue of whether or not it was proper for him to text someone to "expedite cases" against Senator Risa Hontiveros, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II complained about the release of his text message and lashed out at the senator, calling her "unethical".

"I condemn such an act for being unethical and for being 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," Aguirre said of Hontiveros on Tuesday, September 12.

Hontiveros showed on Monday during her privilege speech a photo of Aguirre taken by a photojournalist covering the Senate hearing on September 5. Zooming in on the photo, the recipient of Aguirre's text message turns out to be a "Cong Jing", believed to be former Negros Oriental representative Jacinto “Jing” Paras of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC). (READ: FULL TEXT: Hontiveros asks justice secretary Aguirre to resign)

Aguirre said this violates his constitutional right to privacy, citing Section 3 (1) of Article III of the Constitution: "The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise, as prescribed by law."

The text message cannot be used as evidence either, said Aguirre, citing the same provision. Hontiveros said that the text message proves Aguirre violated the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials.

"Any act or series of acts that will emanate from such an unconstitutional and an illegal act do not even deserve a scant regard and should be treated as non-existent, and if invoked or raised by anybody, should be slain at sight," Aguirre said.

TEXT MESSAGE. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II is caught sending a message to a VACC member, saying there is a need to 'expedite' the cases against Senator Risa Hontiveros. Sourced photo

TEXT MESSAGE. Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II is caught sending a message to a VACC member, saying there is a need to 'expedite' the cases against Senator Risa Hontiveros.

Sourced photo

Wiretapping?

Aguirre also said the "unauthorized prying" and the publicizing of the text message "is a flagrant violation of Republic Act no. 4200 or the Anti-Wire Tapping Act."

A lawyer source said the law does not make mention of photography. The lawyer added that it may be argued that the photojournalist never intended to "tap" – only that it was inadvertently caught by his lens.

"In other words, there was no intent to violate his right to privacy, assuming such right may be invoked under the circumstances of that public hearing," the lawyer said.

Aguirre, however, does not buy this.

"Let us call a spade a spade. I was targeted. It was never inadvertent. Let him or her who claim that the act was not intentional present himself or herself to prove it," Aguirre said.

The justice secretary added: "To the supposed member of the media who evidently disregarded the privacy of my communications, if you do truly exist, I say shame on you!"

Aguirre challenged the photojournalist to reveal his or her identity: "In exchange for a news item for which you cannot and will not claim authorship and responsibility, you prostituted yourself."

On Hontiveros' call for him to resign, Aguirre said he will "continue serving our people" as long as he has "the trust and confidence" of President Rodrigo Duterte.

"You can call on me to resign, no one is stopping you, but only the President can accept my resignation," Aguirre said. 

Paras of the VACC, believed to be the same as "Cong Jing" whom Aguirre texted, earlier told Rappler he does not "recall ever receiving one as I receive so many texts daily and I erase them at the end of the day."

Paras also said Hontiveros and the photojournalist violated the wiretapping law.

There are two pending complaints against Aguirre filed before the Office of the Ombudsman. One was filed by a youth group for ethical violations for releasing fake news, and the other was filed by detained Senator Leila de Lima which accuses him, among others, of coercing his employees at the DOJ to testify against her and instructing his prosecutors not to file cases against law enforcement officials conducting the war on drugs. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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