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Opposition says charges vs Hontiveros a case of political harassment

The members of Senate minority said the filing of charges by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II against Sen. Risa Hontiveros "is one in a continuing attempt by the administration and its allies to silence the political opposition." Senate PRIB/Released, File

MANILA, Philippines — Minority bloc lawmakers criticized the filing of charges by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II against Sen. Risa Hontiveros, calling it a case of political harassment and intimidation.

Aguirre went to the Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office early Monday morning and accused Hontiveros of violating Republic Act 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Act.

The justice chief also lodged an ethics complaint against Hontiveros.

READAguirre files wiretapping complaint vs Sen. Risa Hontiveros

“The filing of charges against Sen. Risa Hontiveros [...] is one in a continuing attempt by the administration and its allies to silence the political opposition, including other colleagues Sen. Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes IV and independent institutions like the Supreme Court, the Ombudsman and the Commission on Human Rights,” members of Senate minority said in a statement Monday.

The Senate minority is composed of Hontiveros, Sens. Francis Pangilinan, Franklin Drilon, Antonio Trillanes IV, Bam Aquino and Leila De Lima.

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Dinagat Islands Rep. Kaka Bag-ao, meanwhile, called the charges against Hontiveros another case of “Leilanization.”

“Leilanization” refers to the detention of De Lima over drug-related charges, in which she repeatedly denied.

“Itong isinampang kaso kay Senator Risa Hontiveros ni DOJ Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre ay isa na namang halimbawa ng "Leilanization" ng mga naghahayag laban sa kawalan ng katarungan sa mga gawain ng pamahalaan. Matapos nilang ikulong si Senator Leila de Lima, ngayon naman si Senator Risa ang pinupuntirya nila,” Bag-ao, a Liberal Party member in the Duterte-allied supermajority in the House, said.

Hontiveros and Bag-ao used to represent Akbayan party-list in the lower house.

The Justice chief earlier cried intrusion of privacy when Hontiveros, in a privilege speech, showed a screenshot of a text message exchange between Aguirre and a certain “Cong. Jing,” presumably lawyer and former lawmaker Jing Paras.

READ: Hontiveros: Text message reveals Aguirre ordered VACC to build case against me

The shot of the message exchange suggested that Aguirre was ordering "Cong. Jing" to hasten case build-up against Hontiveros.

Paras is a member of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, which has filed cases against figures deemed opponents of the Duterte administration.

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

The Senate minority believes Aguirre’s exposed text messages proved that the filing of raps against Hontiveros has long been planned.

Aguirre has not denied nor confirmed the content of the text message exchange but insisted his rights had been violated.

“Nakakatawa ring hindi pa nila sinasagot ang mga katanungan tungkol sa nilalaman ng usapan nina Secretary Aguirre sa kanyang cellphone. Deretso kaagad sila sa pag-alma na nabasa ang kanilang palitan. Sila na nga ang nahuli, sila pa ang galit,” Bag-ao said.

Bag-ao and the minority senators said Hontiveros merely revealed the truth about the current administration’s harassment of the opposition.

“Sana naman ang mas binibigyan ng pansin ng DOJ Secretary ay ang hustisya para sa napakaraming mahihirap at kabataang biktima ng extrajudicial killings at hindi 'hustisya' para sa sarili niya,” she said.

“Democracy—our democracy—requires and protects a variety of voices. It requires and protects checks and balances, which the opposition provides and which the state has been trying to suppress,” the minority senators said. 

Hontiveros said the Aguirre's charges against her are "desperate attempts" to deflect public attention from the "real issue"— Aguirre allegedly conspiring with private individuals to file cases against her. 

"Mr. Secretary, it's already game over. Tapos na ang boksing. Bistong-bisto ka na. Buko ka na. Tama na ang pagpapalusot. Tama na ang pagtatago sa mga pekeng kaso. Panahon na para lisanin mo ang posisyon na lubos na dinungisan mo," she said.

READ: Hontiveros accused of wiretapping, kidnapping at Ombudsman

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