Lacson’s aide tagged in wiretapping

- Christina Mendez, Jaime Laude -
An aide of Philippine National Police (PNP) chief Director General Panfilo Lacson was tagged yesterday as the leader of a team of intelligence agents allegedly monitoring the telephones of judges hearing President Estrada’s impeachment trial and those of media and the political opposition.

Some senior police officials at Camp Crame said Superintendent Diosdado Valeroso is operating with a handful of trusted intelligence men, using state-of-the-art surveillance and eavesdropping equipment.

The officials said Valeroso, a former intelligence chief of the PNP Special Action Force, holds the position of special assistant to the PNP chief.

Meanwhile, Lacson vowed yesterday to ask Pre-sident Estrada to disband the Presidential Anti-Organized Crime Task Force (PAOCTF) if critics could prove that the agency is illegally tapping telephones of government officials.

"I believe that a unit shall have lost its efficiency if its credibility is put to question," he said. "And I am willing to put my job as PAOCTF chief on the line if the allegations are proven true."

Lacson he would also call on PAOCTF officials to resign if evidence is presented and it is proven they have encroached on the privacy of individuals and the confidentiality of communications.

Senior Superintendent Nicanor Bartolome, PNP spokesman, denied having any personal knowledge of the allegations that policemen are engaged in illegal tapping of telephones.

"There is no truth to the allegation that the PNP is involved in surveillance operations, especially of politicians because we are not given the mandate to do that," he said.

At Malacañang, the President described as "nothing but concoction" reports that the Palace has authorized government intelligence agents to bug phone lines at the Senate and the offices of members of the political opposition and the media.

"There is no truth to that," the President told reporters at Piat in Cagayan province yesterday. "They come up with everything but there is no truth to that."

Mr. Estrada heard Mass and attended a multisectoral assembly in Cagayan yesterday and flew back to Manila later in the afternoon.

On the other hand, National Security Adviser Alexander Aguirre told reporters he does not believe that personnel of the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co. (PLDT) are tapping telephones for the Palace because everything about the impeachment trial is read in the newspapers and heard on the radio.

"Everybody could hear and see all these things," he said. "So I think it’s (wiretapping) not true. If our detectives do monitor, they do it pertaining to crimes or criminal activities or criminal elements but not to legal opposition."

Last Monday, a newspaper reported that it had obtained a document proving that the PAOCTF had bugged telephone lines at the residences of about 100 people.

Manuel Pangilinan, PLDT president and chief executive officer, told reporters yesterday the telephone company is trying to identify the "mole" who is believed to be giving pro-Estrada "spies" computer printouts of billing records of about 100 subscribers.
Solons angered by surveillance
Some senators and congressmen were angered by reports that the PAOCTF have placed under surveillance members of Congress and opposition personalities.

Senate Majority Leader Francisco Tatad asked the Senate committee on national defense, public order, ethics and public services to look into the reported monitoring of telephones of members of the impeachment tribunal.

On the other hand, Sen. Raul Roco urged the impeachment tribunal to summon Lacson and PAOCTF officials to explain the accusations against them.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel Jr. expressed disappointment over the alleged illegal activities of the policemen assigned to PAOCTF.

Also condemning the alleged police surveillance was Quezon City Rep. Feliciano Belmonte Jr. (Lakas, Quezon City), who heads the 11-man prosecution panel from the House of Representatives.

Bukidnon Rep. Juan Miguel Zubiri (Lakas) has sought the abolition of the task force headed by Lacson.

Isabela Rep. Heherson Alvarez, Lakas secretary general, said the alleged "super-secret operation has the earmarks of a rogue clique in government using public funds for purely private personal ends."

Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez (Independent) accused Malacañang of trying to "sabotage the impeachment trial" through the tapping of the telephones of judges and members of media and the political opposition.

However, Aguirre assured the public the government is closely monitoring political developments in the country without resorting to illegal wiretapping.

Aguirre said the government depends on legal means to monitor the public pulse like the opinion surveys being conducted by Pulse Asia Inc. and the Social Weather Stations.

"Of course, this is part of our monitoring," he said. "We have to feel the pulse of the people."

Aguirre laughed off accusations that the PAOCTF is monitoring the telephones of impeachment court judges, media people, and opposition politicians, saying that the media is freely covering the impeachment proceedings.

In a statement, the Trade Union Congress of the Philippines (TUCP) called yesterday for the creation of an independent people’s body to investigate the reported monitoring of telephone calls of impeachment court judges and members of the opposition.

"If reports are true that PAOCTF is doing such illegal operations, it should be immediately disbanded and its officers and men jailed," read the statement. – With reports from Marichu Villanueva, Jess Diaz, Perseus Echeminada, Mayen Jaymalin

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