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Hontiveros accused of wiretapping, kidnapping at Ombudsman

Former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto "Jing" Paras speaks with reporters as he filed a complaint against Sen. Risa Hontiveros, a critic of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs, on Monday, Sept. 25, 2017. STAR/Elizabeth Marcelo

MANILA, Philippines (Update 4, Sept. 26 9:57 a.m.) — Sen. Risa Hontiveros is now facing multiple criminal complaints of "harboring" underage witnesses and exposing a text message from Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.

In a 20-page complaint, lawyer and former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto "Jing" Paras, accompanied by two other lawyers, Eligio Mallari and Nestor Ifurong, urged the Office of the Ombudsman to investigate Hontiveros for obstruction of justice under Presidential Decree 1829, kidnapping under the Revised Penal Code, abuse and exploitation of minors under Republic Act 7610 and three counts of violation of RA 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Law.

Paras is affiliated with advocacy group Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption which has supported President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs.

The VACC was behind the case against detained Sen. Leila de Lima, who is accused of benefiting from the illegal drug trade in the national penitentiary. The group, however, denied having a hand in the complaint against Hontiveros.

READ: On Duterte's side: The phases, faces of VACC

Wiretapping

The complainants accused Hontiveros of wiretapping for showing, in a privilege speech at the Senate, a photo of Aguirre seen texting someone during the probe into the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.

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Hontiveros said that when the photo was zoomed, it revealed that Aguirre and a member of the VACC, a certain "Cong Jing," were supposedly in connivance to speed up the filing of cases against her.

"Respondent Hontiveros-Baraquel in connivance with John Doe (photographer) committed the criminal offense of violation of the Anti-Wiretapping Law or Republic Act 4200 by using a device (camera) to secretly record a private communication between a certain Cong. Jing and Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre consisting the exchange of text message between the two... without being authorized by both parties who were in communication with each other," the complaint read.

Aguirre then decried intrusion of his privacy for Hontiveros' supposed exposé but has not denied nor confirmed the content of the message.

During the interview, Paras similarly refused to confirm if he was the "Cong Jing" captured in the photo of Aguirre's cellphone screen.

"I will not deny that I may have sent text messages to Secretary Aguirre. I have also texted the Secretary criticizing the way Hontiveros was posing questions to the witness. If I was alluded to, I admit I may have texted but I was not able to receive his text message or I might have not read because of the many messages I received [that day]," Paras said.

He maintained that "recording a private communication using any device where such recording is not authorized" constitutes wiretapping.

'Kidnapping' underage witnesses

The obstruction of justice, kidnapping and abuse and exploitation of minors charges stemmed from Hontiveros' move to take into the protective custody of her office three witnesses—all minors with ages 13, 9 and 6—from August 19 to September 3. The children supposedly witnessed the killing of Delos Santos.

The complainants alleged that Hontiveros took them without informing the authorities of their whereabouts, without court authorization and despite demands of the Public Attorney's Office and the Department of Justice working on the case to turn them over.

"If you remember, Mrs. Hontiveros was asked or requested to turnover the minor witness or witnesses to PAO and DOJ for a possible interview and investigation but she refused. The purpose of that turnover to PAO or DOJ was for the expeditious course of the case against Kian Loyd delos Santos," Paras told reporters after the filing of the complaint.
 
"The clamor of the people to help justice prevail on the killing of Kian was quite revealing at that time. Hontiveros refused to surrender the witnesses which is considered violation of the law constituting an obstruction of justice," he added.
 
The parents of the witnesses initially agreed to turn over their children to Hontiveros when the senator visited the drug war victim's wake.
 
The complainant said the three witnesses were presented at the Senate on September 4 during an inquiry into Delos Santos' death. But after the hearing, Hontiveros supposedly took custody again of the three minors and turned them over to Caloocan Bishop Pablo David.
 
 
Paras claimed in the complaint that when the father asked for the return of his children, Hontiveros refused to do so. 
 
He said Hontiveros, through her lawyer Kristine Mendoza, influenced the three minors to decline going with their father when the latter went to David's residence to get them on September 9.
 
"There was a demand from the father to return [them]. So in kidnapping, refusing to return a minor is also another crime, some sort of illegally detaining...The other one is inducing a minor to abandon his home or the home of his parents or the home of his guardian, that's exploitation of minor," Paras said.
 
Paras also accused Hontiveros of hampering the probe into the killing of Delos Santos when she refused investigating authorities to interview the witnesses while under her custody.

Hontiveros responds

In a statement, Hontiveros said the ombudsman must not waste time in what she called as an empty complaint supposedly meant to divert the public's attention from the issue of Delos Santos' death and the DOJ and VACC's connivance to file cases against her.
 
"This confirms the conspiracy hatched by Secretary Aguirre and his VACC to 'expedite' the filing of cases against me. It also confirms that the 'Cong. Jing' whom Secretary Aguirre was texting was former Representative Jacinto Paras," Hontiveros said.

 

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