‘PLANTING EVIDENCE OF CONSPIRACY?’ | Opposition senators say email accounts hacked

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Sen. Paolo Benigno "Bam" Aquino IV in an earlier Senate hearing: seeks NBI probe of hacking (Senate file photo)

MANILA – Minority senators are crying foul over alleged hacking incidents involving email addresses of the staff of two senators, Bam Aquino and Kiko Pangilinan, and expressed apprehension that such may be laying the groundwork for linking opposition leaders to supposed destabilization plots.

The concerned senators have turned to the National Bureau of Investigation for help.

“We in the political opposition are seriously concerned about several hacking incidents concerning the email addresses of our staff from the offices of Senators Kiko Pangilinan and Bam Aquino, and just now the official email addresses for releasing media statements of Sen. Pangilinan and the Liberal Party,” said the statement issued by Pangilinan, Aquino, Franklin Drilon, Antonio Trillanes IV and Leila de Lima.

“The nature of the breach in all instances is the same: Unauthorized users sent emails using the staff and party addresses. We have reported previous incidents to the National Bureau of Investigation and we await updates on the matter. We seek the help of the Senate President and the Senate sergeant-at-arms to look into the matter and to secure the services of experts.”

The minority said the incidents “seem to form part of a pattern to pin the political opposition for imaginary destabilization attempts. These are cause for concern as Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre spearheaded the creation of the Citizen National Guard, which says that dissent is destabilization.”

The minority reiterated, “There is no destabilization plot. Dissent is not destabilization. Dissent is indispensable in a democracy.”

Constitutional democracy, the senators added, “protects the small voice, including the minority and the individual citizen, vis-a-vis the many and especially the all-powerful state.”

Planted messages in draft folders

According to Aquino, some messages appeared to have been planted in the draft folders of their staff, including messages with the purported subject: “Leaked media plan to destroy PRRD.”

Pangilinan’s staff, meanwhile, had detected attempts by hackers since March 21, 2017. They discovered email they did not write, bearing the subject, “the investigation on DDS,” an apparent reference to the “die-hard Duterte supporters” and the “Davao Death Squad.”

On Sept. 17, they detected a stray email with the heading, “Duterte bank account details” but which contained nothing when clicked.

There was also an attempt to use the email account of one staff to hack the website of the Government Service Insurance system (GSIS).

On Wednesday, Oct, 11, three hacking incidents were unearthed.

The emails were either empty when clicked, or laden with virus.

Besides NBI, the senators reported the intrusions to the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT).

Aquino said the NBI has a cybercrime division that can trace the culprits, while the AFP needs to be flagged because, “if you look at the subject matter, destabilization attempt, [which some people insist on tying to the] opposition.”

In the initial investigation, it was revealed that the email of some staff was accessed using the Senate wi-fi.

The email addresses used by the hacker were Philippine-based, but one IT address came from the US.

In Aquino’s view, the point of the exercise partakes of “planting evidence [so that] in the future [it can be said there’s a] conspiracy, and there is a narrative, and evidence.”

This cannot be characterized as a mere prank, he added, because besides being illegal, it could cause conflict in the country.

Aquino said he does not know who is behind the hacking, but expressed hope that the Duterte administration, which repeatedly accused them of plotting to bring him down, is not behind it.