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Senate minority sounds alarm over hacked email accounts

Sen. Bam Aquino warned email hackers that the opposition senators are not taking the issue lightly: "This is beyond politics. This is a crime." File

MANILA, Philippines — Opposition senators on Thursday said the hacking of email accounts linked to their offices may be part of a move to link them to so-called destabilization plots against the government.

Sen. Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV, in a briefing at the Senate, said that two email accounts of his staff and three from the staff of Sen. Francis "Kiko" Pangilinan were hacked. 

In a statement, the Senate minority said "the official email addresses for releasing media statements of Sen. Pangilinan and the Liberal Party" were also hacked.

"The nature of the breach in all instances is the same: Unauthorized users sent emails using the staff and party addresses," the statement also read.

Aquino said one of the emails sent using one of the hacked accounts had an attachment of a file on office supplies expenses that was meant for the email recipient to click.

Another email sent through a hacked account had a supposed link to a Philippine Star article.

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But Aquino believes that the emails are an attempt to get hold of personal information of the recipients.

“The email is so harmless but if you click on it, maybe a virus will take over your device and obtain your information,” Aquino said in a mix of English and Filipino.

“There is an attempt to gather more information,” Aquino also said, adding that they are not taking the hacking attempt lightly. He said that he opted to reveal the incident to the media to let the hacker know that they are tracing th already.

The minority said previous hacking incidents have been reported to the National Bureau of Investigation.

"We seek the help of the Senate president and the Senate sergeant-at-arms to look into the matter and to secure the services of experts," they also said.

'Beyond politics'

Aquino said that the hacking incident may be an attempt to “plant new evidence, so that in the future there is evidence for a conspiracy.”

The newly formed Citizen National Guard said that the opposition, particularly the members of the Liberal Party of the Philippines, is brewing a destabilization move against the government. Among those identified by the group as "enemies of the state" are Yellowtards.

The term "yellowtard" is thrown around by internet users referring to loyal supporters of the Liberal Party, the political party of Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III. It is a play between the yellow, the color associated with the moribund party, and retard, which indicates a delay in progress.

It is also a play on "retard", an offensive term used to refer to people with cognitive disabilities.

The label, however, has also been used by Duterte's supporters on any critic of the administration regardless of political allegiances.

The same theory was echoed by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.

"These incidents seem to form part of a pattern to pin the political opposition for imaginary destabilization attempts. These are cause for concern as Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre spearheaded the creation of the Citizen National Guard, which says that dissent is destabilization," the Senate minority said.

The senators have already denied involvement in any destabilization plots.

"Let us be clear. There is no destabilization plot. Dissent is not destabilization. Dissent is indispensable in a democracy," they said.

“This goes beyond politics. This is a crime,” Aquino said during the briefing.

He said that aside from the NBI, they have also reported the incidents to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of Information Communications and Technology.

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