Palace use of foreign wiretaps for narcolist hit
Senators on Wednesday aired concerns after Malacañang admitted that President Rodrigo Duterte’s list of politicians allegedly involved in the illegal drug trade was based on wiretapped phone calls shared by foreign governments with the Philippines.
At the same time, the legislators reminded the Palace that any evidence, including wiretapped phone conversations, obtained without court order could not be presented in court since these would be considered “fruits of the poisonous tree.”
Malacañang said on Tuesday that Interior Secretary Eduardo Año would release the President’s so-called narcolist, reportedly containing the names of 82 politicians, mostly local government officials running for reelection in May.
Año reportedly wants to publish the list to warn voters against choosing candidates in midterm elections who are protectors of drug traders.
Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said foreign governments that were wiretapping the phone conversations of criminals in the country had shared information with the Philippines that went into the compilation of the list.
Panelo said the United States, Israel, China and Russia “provided” the Philippine government with wiretapped information about politicians who were involved in drug trafficking.
“All countries help each other in fighting terrorism and criminality. Maybe in the course of this cooperation, they provided the information,” he said.
While wiretapping is illegal in the Philippines, Panelo, who is also the presidential legal counsel, said there was no law prohibiting accepting intercepted information and that the Philippines should be grateful for the foreign help.
The President himself had admitted to listening to recordings of intercepted phone conversations of alleged narcopoliticians.
Talking to reporters in Marawi City on Sept. 23, 2017, Mr. Duterte said he had listened to the phone calls of Iloilo City Mayor Jed Mabilog and slain Ozamiz City Mayor Reynaldo Parojinog Sr.
“Don’t ask me how [or] what kind of device. It was a whisper from God and I was listening to him. So they were all tapped,” he said.
Parojinog and 14 others were killed by police in a drug raid on the mayor’s home on July 30, 2017.
Mabilog fled the country after being linked by Mr. Duterte to drugs in 2017.
On Tuesday, Panelo vouched for the accuracy of Mr. Duterte’s narcolist.
“Remember, technology has made surveillance through telephone possible. That’s why it’s hard to deny when law enforcers say you’re on the list,” the Palace official told reporters.
“Is the (Duterte) administration admitting to be complicit in the commission of a crime by foreign governments?” Sen. Panfilo Lacson said in a text message on Wednesday.
“Is it now a government policy to condone invasion of privacy of its own nationals by China, Israel and the United States?” he asked.
“If this government continues to show acquiescence, our privacy becomes vulnerable, not from our own government, but from other jurisdictions, which makes it even worse,” he added.
Lacson said recorded phone conversations, if lawfully obtained, “should have been used as evidence” since these would have “strong probative and evidentiary value to prosecute the personalities involved.”
Panelo claim doubted
Senate President Vicente Sotto III raised doubt that the United States, Russia, China and Israel would intentionally intercept phone calls of at least 82 politicians as claimed by Panelo.
“It’s far-fetched. Why will a foreign government wiretap politicians? A few, perhaps. But 82 [government officials]?” Sotto said.
“If cases will be filed [against] these politicians, it will be based on other evidence and not the wiretaps,” he said.
Sen. Aquilino “Koko” Pimentel III, a lawyer, said the government should bring criminal charges against the alleged narcopoliticians “with evidence which are credible and not prohibited by law.”
Lacson, a former chief of the Philippine National Police, said the government could not justify the contents of Mr. Duterte’s narcolist by conveniently saying it was based on phone conversations intercepted by foreign governments.
“Malacañang’s claim … doesn’t make things right—unless those who conducted the wiretap were armed with judicial authorization,” he said.
“[O]n the other hand, if the wiretap was done illegally, it is nothing but the fruit of a poisonous tree,” he said.
Inadmissible as evidence
Senate Minority Leader Franklin Drilon, a former justice secretary, agreed with Lacson, saying recordings of wiretapped phone conversations were “not admissible as evidence” in court.
“It has no value at all. It cannot be used as evidence, having been obtained illegally,” Drilon said.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said he would ask the National Bureau of Investigation to verify Mr. Duterte’s narcolist.
“Once the list is made public, we shall request the sources of the information to provide us with copies of their intelligence reports,” Guevarra said.
He said the NBI would file complaints after the intelligence reports had been verified.
“If the wiretapped conversation came from a country where wiretapping is not illegal, then it may be passed on to our government and considered admissible in Philippine courts,” he said.
Presumption of innocence
Opposition senatorial candidates on Wednesday expressed alarm over Malacañang’s plan to release the narcolist next week.
Former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay said presumption of innocence applied to all and at all times, including election season.
“The imposition of justice should be fair, and should respect the processes of a democracy,” Hilbay said.
“There should be evidence. There should be cases filed. That is why I’m running—to make the law equal for everybody so nobody will be let off and those who should be accountable are made accountable,” said human rights lawyer Chel Diokno.
Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano said that while the Supreme Court had cited several instances when the presumption of innocence could be “waived,” he said running for office was not one of these.
“It is alarming that the Palace has fabricated a ground to remove that presumption and it is further disturbing that it is being presumptively waived based on narcolists that have proven to be factually wrong, containing [the names of] dead people and had to be revised time and again for being inaccurate,” Alejano said. —With reports from Dona Z. Pazzibugan and DJ Yap
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