Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Anyone for Wiretapping?

The following is a letter to the editor of Atty. Leonard De Vera, Chair of Equal Justice for All (E-JUST)published in the several newspapers last Sept. 1, 2007:

Lost in the midst of the “Garci tapes” controversy is an anomalous situation in Republic Act 4200, (Anti-Wiretapping Act).

The law is good in that it protects against illegal intrusion into people’s right to privacy of conversation. The law is bad in that it bans all kinds of wiretaps unless authorized by a written order issued by a judge.

Consider this dreadful situation: Your child is kidnapped. You receive a telephone call from the kidnapper who lets you hear your child’s crying voice. He demands ransom money. He instructs you not to call the police. He calls you in 30 minutes to know if you have raised the money and gives directions of where, when and how the ransom will be delivered by you.

Since it is impossible to go to court to get a written order within 30 minutes, you wiretap your phone. You record the kidnapper’s voice and ransom instructions. Because of the recorded conversation, the police are able to investigate and arrest the kidnapper.

Who goes to jail? The kidnapper? No. You go to jail.

All because RA 4200 absolutely bans the use of illegally wiretapped evidence in a court of law or in any criminal, civil or administrative proceedings.

The prosecutor cannot introduce the wiretapped voice of the kidnapper as evidence to prove the identity of, and instructions given, by the kidnapper. Lawyers love to call this, “the fruit of the poisonous tree.” Therefore, inadmissible evidence. The kidnapper is set free.

The kidnapper turns the tables on you. He sues you for violation of RA 4200 because you had wiretapped him without a written court order. You, the victim of the crime, go to jail.

RA 4200 admits of no exception to wiretapped conversations. The only legal use of wiretapping is when authorized in writing by a judge who must first interview you to see if his order to wiretap is justified.

RA 4200 must be amended to admit of some exceptions such as the one just described.

Chair, Equal Justice For All (EJUST)
Unit Penthouse B, Windsor Tower
163 Legazpi St., Legazpi Village
Makati City 1229

Atty. De Vera's proposed amendment is embodied in a bill I filed in Congress, but received no attention from the House. I felt redeemed that someone has the same view that I have of Republic Act 4200, The ANti-Wiretapping Law, which I believe needs to be amended.

Unfortunately, the issue has been drowned by the political issues that dominated the discussion about wiretapping,e specially because of the circumstances which brought the issue forward in the first place---cheating in the 2004 elections.

Indeed, those involved in the issue, especially those perceived to have committed wrong-doing, had to defend themselves, just as those who believed that the truth should come out had to do everything to expose the story behind the highly controversial 2004 elections.

It seems that the 2004 elections controversy may have been set aside with the closure of the 13th Congress, although closure has not been attained by those who believe that the Hello Garci tapes can reveal more that what has already been revealed in the hearings.

Once again in the 14th Congress, the tapes say "hello" to us. It has never really said "goodbye", just "see you later". That's how it is with the Truth. It will never lay to rest unless it is out in the open. The Bible, in the Book of John, it is written, "The truth shall set you free." So it is, with truth, that it shall set itself free.

But I am not blind to political reality. I know that at this time, while there is still a need to validate the evidence about the issues hounding the 2004 elections and the Hello Garci tapes, the people already know the truth about it and need no further revelations. The results of the 2007 elections, however tainted it may be, still indicated the people's sentiment. So it may be time for us to look towards other objectives.

One is the amendment of the wiretapping law. While the political ends were not achieved by the Hello Garci hearings last congress, I would say that those who lost the political battle won the moral battle. It is now time to perform attain legal victory, which will benefit everyone, from all sectors, all beliefs and all affiliations.

To me, this should be the primary goal of the resumption of the Hello Garci hearings. To learn from the mistakes of the past in order to avoid them in the future. To amend the law and attune it to the needs of the present.

To express my appreciation to Atty. De Vera for his timely observation, I sent him this letter:

Dear Atty. De Vera,

My warmest felicitations to a citizen who has shown his patriotism and vigilance as a Filipino!

I would like to commend you for the insight you have shared in your letter to the editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer which was published on September 1, wherein you suggested the amendment of Republic Act 4200 to enable victims of crime to conduct wiretapping without need of a court order.

I am happy to inform you that in the 14th Congress, I filed House Bill No. 58 which seeks to amend R.A. 4200 and allow persons who are victims of kidnapping to perform wiretapping of suspects to aid in the early solution of the crime, just as you proposed.

The proposal is one of several amendments to the wiretapping law which were borne of the Hello Garci hearings in the previous Congress. I filed it as House Bill No. 5313 in the 13th Congress even before the hearings were terminated, belying the claims that no legislation was produced as a result of those hearings. Unfortunately, it was buried under the political noise at that time.

With the wiretapping hearings reopened recently, I believe that the Legislature should proceed with it with the objective of updating an old law that has ceased to be relevant to the times. With the advent of new technologies and new reasons to conduct legal wiretapping, we should look beyond or even set aside the political dimension of the issue and pass legislation that would provide us an up-to-date legal environment for recording conversations.

I hope that you can be one with us in this legislative endeavor.

Thank you very much and may God bless you!

Yours truly,

Ruffy Biazon

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