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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2038

ASEAN MPs call for charges against Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros to be dropped

Jakarta, 05 October, (Asiantribune.com):

ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) today condemned the filing of criminal wiretapping charges against Philippine Senator Risa Hontiveros, calling for the charges to be dropped and for the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to cease its harassment of critics and human rights defenders.

Senator Hontiveros, who is also a member of APHR, was formally charged with wiretapping on Monday in relation to a speech she delivered in the Senate on 11 September, during which she showed a photo of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre’s cell phone screen. Text messages displayed in the image revealed Secretary Aguirre urging Duterte ally and former Congressman Jacinto “Jing” Paras to “expedite the cases” against Senator Hontiveros.

Regional lawmakers expressed concerns about the apparent politically motivated nature of the charges, given the Justice Secretary’s previous statements and actions and Senator Hontiveros’ vocal criticism of the President’s “war on drugs.”

“Accusing Senator Hontiveros of wiretapping for simply showing a photo taken by someone else is beyond the pale, even for this administration. The charges are not only unfounded, they call into question the very credibility of the Justice Department itself,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.

MPs also expressed concern over the apparent lack of prosecutorial independence in the case against Senator Hontiveros, given that it was filed by Justice Secretary Aguirre, himself, at the Pasay City Prosecutor’s Office, which falls under his purview.

“Particularly given the significant concerns about the validity of the charges against the Senator, including the fact that her speech on 11 September is likely protected by parliamentary immunity, it’s important to ensure the full independence of the prosecution. Unfortunately, this cannot be guaranteed if the case is pursued by someone who reports directly to the victim of the alleged crime,” Santiago said.

Senator Hontiveros has emerged as one of the strongest voices in either house of Congress criticizing President Duterte’s “war on drugs.” The text messages between the Justice Secretary and Jing Paras were exchanged during a Senate committee meeting on 5 September, in which Senator Hontiveros was questioning witnesses in relation to the highly-publicized killing by police in August of 17-year-old student Kian Loyd delos Santos.

“What we’re seeing develop in the Philippines is a pattern of harassment against the administration’s critics, especially those who have forged ahead with investigations into extra-judicial killings and other human rights violations. First Senator Leila De Lima and now Senator Hontiveros. Who will be next?” asked Santiago.

APHR members, including Santiago, recently attempted to visit Senator Leila De Lima in prison at Camp Crame, where she has been held since February on politically motivated drug trafficking charges. The delegation was barred from doing so by the Philippine National Police, despite having followed all required protocols to request permission.

APHR called on the Philippine government to put in place measures to guarantee the integrity of the judicial process and protect freedom of speech for all, including those who criticize government actions and policies.

“Harassment of critics and human rights defenders in the Philippines must stop. The government must end what increasing looks like a politically motivated witch hunt,” Santiago said.

- Asian Tribune -

 Risa Hontiveros - Philippine Senator
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