Lawyer: Risa Hontiveros immune from suit for Senate speech

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, October 11) — The lawyer of Senator Risa Hontiveros is invoking constitutional immunity in the wake of wiretapping allegations by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre.

Speaking to CNN Philippines' The Source on Wednesday, former Solicitor General Florin Hilbay Article VI, Section 11 of the Constitution. It states, "No Member shall be questioned nor be held liable in any other place for any speech or debate in the Congress or in any committee thereof."

He said this applies to lawmakers when offenses are punishable by up to six years imprisonment, including wiretapping.

"The jurisprudence, the cases decided by the Philippine Supreme Court are very clear -- she's immune, whether in the DOJ or the Ombudsman, for the content of what she said... that's speech in Congress, and that's protected," said Hilbay.

Hontiveros went head to head with Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre when she called him out during a privilege speech for allegedly plotting against her. The senator showed a photograph of Aguirre sending a message to a certain "Cong. Jing," instructing him to expedite cases against Hontiveros.

Former Negros Oriental Representative Jacinto "Jing" Paras of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption (VACC) filed before the Ombudsman cases of wiretapping, obstruction of justice, kidnapping and failure to return a minor, and inducing a minor to abandon his home, against Hontiveros.

Related: VACC case against me a 'desperate attempt' - Hontiveros

Aguirre filed a criminal complaint against her at the Pasay City Prosecutors Office, citing three counts of violation of the Anti-Wiretapping Law. He also filed an ethics complaint before the Senate.

Related: Justice Secretary files complaints vs. senator in alleged 'conspiracy'

Hilbay said the Senate Ethics Committee is the only valid venue for Aguirre's complaint.

"She cannot be held liable, except in the Senate itself," he said.

Hilbay said the photograph did not even qualify as wiretapping, and it was not taken by Hontiveros.

The anti-wiretapping law declare unlawful the tapping of "any wire or cable, or by using any other device or arrangement, to secretly overhear, intercept, or record" private communication.

The former Solicitor General also slammed Aguirre for filing the complaint in an office under his department, saying he could be disbarred.

"There might be a chance that this complaint moves forward because he filed it within his own office, within the City Prosecutor's Office, a person under his direct control and supervision. That's a ground for disbarment," said Hilbay.

"The place where he can file his complaint is before the Senate Ethics Committee," he added.

Hontiveros is a vocal critic of President Rodrigo Duterte, slamming the war on drugs and his comments on rape and women.

Hilbay is also legal counsel for another administration critic Sen. Leila De Lima, who is detained at the Philippine National Police Custodial Center on drug charges.