EXPLAINER: What’s diplomatic immunity and is a diplomat immune from suit over wiretapping phone call?

China has recorded a purported phone conversation allegedly between a Philippine military official and a Chinese diplomat.

Department of National Defense (DND) Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. hit China for doing so, calling its action as wiretapping, an act illegal under Philippine law.

According to Republic Act No. 4200 or the Anti-Wiretapping Act, it is unlawful for any person to tap or record any communication if it is not authorized by all parties involved.

The phone call was played on Tuesday, May 7, before media organizations, including Manila Bulletin, invited by the Chinese Embassy in Manila. The supposed conversation was what the embassy said was its proof that the Philippines agreed to a "new model" on management of the West Philippine Sea dispute, which the Philippine government had repeatedly refuted.

The conversation was supposedly between the "AFP WESCOM chief" and a "Chinese diplomat." The Chinese embassy had a record of such talk.

It could not be immediately confirmed if the phone call was real or fake, although various government Philippine agencies already denied any discussions where the "new model" was agreed on.

Would the embassy official who released the recording to the press be legally liable in the Philippines?

The practical answer would be no. Under Article 31 of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, "a diplomatic agent shall enjoy immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state."

But, except if "the immunity from jurisdiction of diplomatic agents and of persons enjoying immunity under Article 37 may be waived by the sending State," according to Article 32 of the same treaty.

The Vienna Convention is a United Nations' treaty that the Philippines, among other countries, ratified.

Article 49 of the Vienna Convention on Relations and Optional Protocol on Disputes stated that "the person of a diplomatic agent shall be inviolable.​"

​"He shall not be liable to any form of arrest or detention. The receiving State shall treat him​ with due respect and shall take all appropriate steps to prevent any attack​ on his person, freedom or dignity," it added.

But the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), in a statement Thursday, reminded China that "diplomats should strictly adhere to" another provision of the treaty.

Article 41 of the treaty, DFA said, diplomats "have a duty not to interfere in the internal affairs of" the receiving state they are in.

"Without prejudice to their privileges and immunities, it is the duty of all persons enjoying such privileges and immunities to respect the laws and regulations of the receiving State​," it added.