MANILA, Philippines – Dinagat Islands Representative Kaka Bag-ao on Monday, October 2, criticized Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II after he filed a criminal complaint against Senator Risa Hontiveros for allegedly violating the anti-wiretapping law.
"This case filed by Secretary Aguirre against Senator Hontiveros is an example of the 'Leilanization' of those who express opposition to the government's actions that disregard the importance of justice," said Bag-ao, a Liberal Party (LP) member who is part of the Duterte-allied "supermajority" in the House. (READ: Hontiveros, Aguirre face off in Senate hearing over alleged wiretapping)
"Leilanization" refers to the jailing of Senator Leila de Lima, a member of the LP, over drug charges which she denies. De Lima and her allies have accused President Rodrigo Duterte's administration of fabricating the charges as a form of harassment against the senator, who is among the President's fiercest critics.
The charges against Hontiveros stem from a privilege speech by the senator, where she showed a photo of Aguirre texting Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) member Jacinto "Jing" Paras during a public hearing at the Senate.
Based on the photo, which included a clear shot of Aguirre's cellphone screen, the justice chief apparently told Paras to "expedite the cases" against Hontiveros. (READ: Jing Paras files kidnapping complaint vs Hontiveros for taking Kian witnesses)
Aguirre insists the photo was not taken by accident and has criticized "the shameless violation of a citizen's right to the privacy of communication."
Bag-ao criticized Aguirre for not addressing the issue of the text message exchange itself.
"It's funny that he has yet to answer questions about their conversation. Instead, he was alarmed because the exchange was read. They're the ones angry when it's them who got caught," she said.
Bag-ao, an ally of Hontiveros in several key issues including women's rights and LGBT equality, said the senator "merely revealed the truth" about the Duterte administration's harassment of the opposition. Bag-ao added that the opposition's role is to scrutinize the administration and check possible abuses of power.
"[Aguirre] may have forgotten that we live in a democracy. I hope the justice secretary pays attention to ensuring justice for the poor and young victims of extrajudicial killings and not 'justice' for himself," she added.
Hontiveros belongs to the Akbayan party, but is allied with the LP-led Senate minority bloc. Bag-ao used to represent Akbayan in the House before she ran for the Dinagat Islands seat. Hontiveros also used to represent Akbayan in the House.