House committee approves substitute anti-wiretapping bill

Published August 15, 2018, 3:46 PM

by Patrick Garcia

By Ellson Quismorio

The House Committee on Dangerous Drugs led by Surigao del Norte 2nd district Rep. Robert Ace Barbers has approved a substitute bill for a measure seeking amendments to the Anti-Wiretapping Act in order to “unshackle” anti-drug operatives from it.

The Joint Session of the Senate and the House of Representatives on the extension of Martial Law in Mindanao commences in the Plenary of the Batasang Pambansa on December 13, 2017. (ALVIN KASIBAN / MANILA BULLETIN)

The currently unnumbered substitute bill also sees to it that Republic Act (RA) 4200, or the Act to prohibit and penalize wiretapping and other related violations of the privacy of communication, would become more attuned to these days of smartphones, tablets, and other high-tech mobile communication devices.

A “clean copy” of the bill sent to House reporters by Barbers’s office showed that the proposed amendments to Section 3 of the law includes illegal drug offenses, among others, in the list of crimes wherein wiretapping would be allowed on the part of law enforcers.

Specifically covered by the Section 3 of the bill are violations of RA 9165, or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act of 2002.

This would give authorities more avenues to go after drug traffickers and smugglers in the same way that the current law is limiting them.

Enacted in 1965, RA 4200 exempts wiretapping only in cases of treason, espionage, provoking war and disloyalty in case of war, privacy, mutiny in the high seas, rebellion, conspiracy and proposal to commit rebellion, inciting to rebellion, sedition, conspiracy to commit sedition, inciting to sedition, and kidnapping.

Under the ongoing 17th Congress, eight measures namely HB nos. 289, 587, 1868, 3406, 3616, 3627, 3733, and 4151 were filed by congressmen to effect changes to the decades-old Anti-Wiretapping Act in the light of President Rodrigo Duterte’s no-nonsense campaign against the illegal drug menace.

The substitute bill serves as the consolidation of the eight measures.

Aside from adding to the number of exempted offenses, the Committee-approved substitute bill also expands the basic definition of “anti-wiretapping” as stated in its proposed amendments to Section 1.

“It shall be unlawful for any person, not being authorized by any party to any oral, wire, radio, digital or electronic private communication, to tap, intercept or record such communication with the use of any electronic, mechanical, digital or analog phone system, or similar devices,” read Section 1 of the substitute bill.

The particular section adds that it “shall also be unlawful for any person, be he a participant or not in the act or acts penalized in the next preceding sentence, to knowingly possess any tape record, wire record, disc record, or any other such record, or copies thereof, of any oral, wire, radio, digital or electronic private communication secured either before or after the effective date of this Act in the manner prohibited by this law; or to replay the same for any other person or persons; or to communicate the contents thereof, either or in writing, or to furnish transcriptions thereof, whether complete or partial, to any other person: Provided, That the use of such record or any copies thereof as evidence in any civil, criminal investigation or trial of offenses mentioned in section 3 hereof, shall not be covered by this prohibition.”

Currently, the prohibition in RA 4200 only covers “dictaphone or dictagraph or dictaphone or walkie-talkie or tape recorder, or however otherwise described.”

Dangerous Drugs panel Chairman Barbers is a staunch supporter of the administration’s drive against narcotics.

Aside from him, the authors of the substitute bill are Reps. Michael Romero, Leopoldo Bataoil, Ferdinand Hernandez, Romeo Acop, Enrico Pineda, Cristal Bagatsing, and Gary Alejano.