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Tolentino wants Chinese Embassy execs to face Senate probe into alleged wiretapping

To show their good faith, Chinese Embassy officials should voluntarily face the Senate national defense committee's probe into the alleged wiretapping of a supposed conversation with a Philippine military official, Senator Francis Tolentino said Wednesday.

The lawmaker made the remark after he filed proposed Senate Resolution 1023, which calls on the Senate panel to launch an investigation into China's claim, which it said is "backed by hard evidence," of a phone conversation between the Chinese side and an Armed Forces of the Philippines Western Command (Wescom) official about the so-called "new model" agreement in the West Philippine Sea.

At a press conference, Tolentino said that Senator Jinggoy Estrada has committed to launch the investigation and he would suggest inviting the Department of National Defense, the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, Department of Foreign Affairs, and the Chinese Embassy "if they will attend voluntarily."

"Hindi sila puwedeng ma-compel but because this involves a violation of Philippine laws, palagay ko dapat um-attend sila para patunayan na in good faith sila, para patunayan na wala silang inililihim. So nasa kanila na iyon kung dadalo sila o hindi," Tolentino said.

(They can't be compelled, but because this involves a violation of Philippine laws, I believe they should attend to prove in good faith that they have nothing to hide. So it's up to them to attend or not.)

"We have heard of a pending investigation that would be conducted by the National Bureau of Investigation concerning the matter and it is a serious breach of existing international law for an embassy, foreign embassy, to violate internal and domestic laws of a host country. And I am referring now to Republic Act 4200 or the Anti-Wire Tapping Law. So ito 'yung violation," he added.

Tolentino clarified that the probe that he is seeking does not intend to prove whether the supposed agreement on the "new model" was existing or not.

"Kung ano man yung kalalabasan nitong imbestigasyon [Whatever comes out of the investigation], the content would be extraneous to the investigation. Ang gusto lamang patunayan dito ay kung nagkaroon ba talaga ng wire-tapping," he said.

(What we want to find out is if there really was wire-tapping involved.)

"Hindi natin sinasabi dito na mayroong acknowledgement, mayroong implied recognition, that there was indeed a new model, hindi iyon. The mere fact na nagkaroon ng wire tapping kahit ito lang yung ceremonial greetings—'good afternoon, ni hao'—tinap mo that is a violation of the wire-tapping law," he explained.

(We're not saying it would be an acknowledgement, an implied recognition, that there was indeed a new model, no. The mere fact that there was wire-tapping, even if it were just ceremonial greetings—'Good afternoon,' 'Ni hao'—if you tapped it, that is a violation of the wire-tapping law.)

Should the investigation find that there is indeed a wiretapping incident, Tolentino said the Philippines can assert the implementation of the wiretapping law, adding that it could be considered "espionage."

The incident might also lead to the declaration of persona non grata or the downsizing of Chinese Embassy personnel in the Philippines, Tolentino warned.

The Chinese Embassy in Manila allegedly leaked a transcript of the supposed phone call between a Filipino military official and one of its diplomats regarding a “new model” agreement on the Ayungin Shoal.

Quoting a source in the Chinese Embassy, two major Manila newspapers reported about a phone recording in January 2024 between the Chinese side and a Philippine military official, said to be the chief of the AFP Wescom.

A transcript of the conversation was reportedly also provided.

Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos was chief of the AFP WESCOM at that time. Carlos has taken a leave of absence due to personal reasons, AFP spokesperson Colonel Francel Margareth Padilla earlier said.

National Security Adviser Secretary Eduardo Año previously said that China’s claim was “absolutely absurd, ludicrous, and preposterous.”

The Department of Foreign Affairs has also said it will investigate the involvement of foreign diplomats in illegal activities and vowed to take the "necessary action."

For his part, Defense Secretary Gilberto Teodoro Jr. had also said that those responsible in recording the alleged conversation should be expelled from the Philippines.

Año promptly expressed support for Teodoro's call, saying that those behind the recording committed serious breaches of diplomatic protocols and conventions, and violated the Anti-Wiretapping Act.

Beijing has strongly criticized the two Philippine officials for their statements, warning that "any hasty action" could "potentially harm" ties with Manila.

China has also said their diplomats should be allowed to freely do their jobs in the country. — BM, GMA Integrated News