MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Wednesday said the crisis in Marawi City could be part of a destabilization plot against the administration in which Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Antonio Trillanes IV, Representative Gary Alejano and Aquino government official Ronald Llamas might be involved.
Aquino had earlier been the subject of an apparent disinformation campaign that tried to make it his visit to Marawi a few days before hostilities broke out between government forces and extremist gunmen had something to do with the crisis.
DTI chief: Bam in Marawi for Go Negosyo
No less than Trade Secretary Mon Lopez earlier defended Senator Bam Aquino against rumors peddled on social media about him having instigated the fighting between the Maute Group and government forces, after Aquino visited Marawi City recently.
On the official Facebook account of Go Negosyo, an institution that has been promoting entrepreneurship among Filipinos and which Lopez was executive director of, Trade Secretary Lopez said that Aquino, along with members of the business sector, the local government, and the military, had gone to Marawi City in May to attend the launch of the first Negosyo Center in the city, which was also the 508th Negosyo Center in the country.
Lopez noted that Aquino had authored the Go Negosyo Law, which directed the Department of Trade and Industry to establish Negosyo Centers in all municipalities, in order to give micro and small entrepreneurs access to “entrepreneurship education, mentorship, money, and market”.
“It is unfortunate that his visit is now the subject of false news and reports. We call on our countrymen, during this time of crisis, not resort to spreading lies and conspiracies as these may worsen the situation,” Lopez said in his statement.
A number of social media users – including staunch Duterte supporter Antonio Contreras, who has a large following – cast doubt on Aquino’s trip to Marawi City.
Why is Bam Aquino so silent?
Any explanation on what he did in Marawi a few days ago?
— Antonio Contreras (@tontoncontreras) May 25, 2017
Did Bam Aquino have a meeting with the Maute Rebels before the Marawi City attack?
During his visit to Marawi City iba ang escort nya?
— BBM Japan 日本???? (@MSJO21) May 23, 2017
Why dnt we asked Bam Aquino who recently went to Marawi. His visit there was questionable. pic.twitter.com/QDEAUlqArk
— SarahCasinillo (@sarahcasinillo) May 23, 2017
“This government is a partner to all individuals and institutions that help improve lives and bring prosperity to all Filipinos,” Lopez said.
He added that Aquino had been their partner “in empowering the micro, small, and medium enterprise sector for years, from his time as a social entrepreneur until he was elected senator.”
Before running for office, Aquino co-founded the social enterprise Hapinoy, which helped poor women in rural areas to set up sari-sari stores and access microfinance.
On his Twitter account, Aquino posted: “As soon as the violence has stopped, it’s a wake-up call for us to put development in the area. (It) should be at par with the rest of the Philippines.”
DND chief no less cleared me: Trillanes
For his part, Trillanes said he had not visited Marawi in three years and advised Aguirre to stop peddling conspiracy theories from facebook.
“For the record, I am not involved in any way with the Maute group or the Marawi incident. Sec. Lorenzana said so himself. I also did not have any meeting in Marawi in May 2 since I haven’t visited Marawi for the past three years. But don’t take my word for it, simply check the Senate records for May 2. The incompetence of Aguirre is only matched by his stupidity. I would advise him to avoid getting his intel from facebook conspiracy theorists.”
‘Fabricator of dangerous lies’
Ifugao Rep. Teddy Baguilat Jr. said Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II should be taken to task for being “a fabricator of dangerous lies.”
“I’m not a lawyer, but somebody should seriously study filing a case against Aguirre for being a fabricator of dangerous lies,” he said in reaction to the latest statement of the Justice chief linking several opposition lawmakers to the Maute group.
In a statement, Baguilat said that the officials named “would be the last to orchestrate something that would risk lives of our soldiers and civilians.”
“Napakalabo ng connection ng Maute sa mga tinatagurian niyang Dilawan. If at all, Aguirre is betraying his own conspiracy to justify jailing of dissenters and opposition figures,” he said.
Aguirre shows picture
However, Aguirre showed media a picture purporting to show Aquino, Trillanes, Alejano and Llamas meeting at the Lakeview Hotel with members of two prominent Marawi families.
The Justice secretary also speculated that the politicians may have brought money with them – money, he added, that could be part of the P52 million government troops found at a house used as a machinegun and sniper’s nest by the Maute group.
He urged government security agencies to look into the destabilization angle when probing the circumstances surrounding the Marawi crisis.
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