MANILA, Philippines — (UPDATE – 8:39 a.m.) Shortly after insinuating opposition politicians and prominent Marawi clans may be linked to the ongoing crisis in the Lanao del Sur capital, citing a supposed meeting weeks before hostilities broke out between extremists and government forces, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II backtracked and blamed media for supposedly misquoting him.
Wednesday morning, Aguirre said Senators Paolo Benigno Aquino IV and Antonio Trillanes IV, Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano and Ronald Llamas, political adviser of then President Benigno Aquino III, went to Marawi on April 24, 28 and May 2, the last time supposedly holding a meeting at the “Lakeview Resort Hotel” (actually the Marawi Lake View Hotel and Resort according to its Facebook page) with “some clans doon sa Marawi, mga Moro family.”
“Sinabi sa akin (I was told) they met with several families there, kasama na mga Lucman … meron nga members ng mga Alonto (including the Lucmans … and even members of the Alonto clan),” he said.
“Hindi ko malaman (I don’t know) why after they went there nagkagulo na (violence broke out),” he said, adding he had asked for an investigation into the matter.
Aguirre even flashed reporters a picture of the alleged meeting, which turned out to be a photo on September 4, 2015, taken at the Iloilo International Airport and posted on the Facebook account of Zambanga del Sur Vice Governor Ace Cerilles.
The picture shows Trillanes, Alejano and Llamas with Cerilles and Mark Lapid during what the Zamboanga del Sur vice governor said was the Visayas conference of the League of Municipalities.
Aquino, Trillanes and Alejano immediately refuted Aguirre’s claims with evidence showing why they could not have been in Marawi on May 2.
It was not, in fact, the first time Aquino had been linked to the Marawi crisis. Earlier, administration supporters on social media insinuated that his visit there to inaugurate the first “Go Negosyo” Center in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao had to do with the subsequent violence, an accusation Trade Secretary Mon Lopez personally blasted as “false news and reports” as he urged people to “not resort to spreading lies and conspiracies as these may worsen the situation.”
In Marawi, Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Mamintal Adiong Jr. also denied the purported meeting between the opposition politicians and members of the two prominent happened.
“I categorically deny that such meeting ever took place,” he said.
He added that Aguirre called him up early Wednesday afternoon, soon after reports of the Justice secretary’s claims were posted by online media outfits.
“At 1:02 p.m. today (Wednesday), Secretary Aguirre called me up and said his statements were misquoted by the press,” he said.
Hours after making his claims, Aguirre issued a statement claiming he was “misquoted by some reporters” and apologizing to the Alonto and Lucman families.
Here is his statement in full:
STATEMENT OF SECRETARY VITALIANO AGUIRRE II
JUNE 7, 2017, WEDNESDAY, 5:40PM
Ladies and gentlemen, there was no intent on my part to implicate the Alonto and Lucman families in the crisis that Marawi City is currently facing. Both families have never been and shall never be a part of any plot to destroy or cause harm to anybody or any property.
For the record, I did not say there was a meeting between the two families and some lawmakers prior to the Marawi seige. The said meeting never took place and no member of both families ever met with Senator Trillanes, Congressman Alejano and Ronald Llamas. Governor Soraya Alonto Adiong invited Senator Bam Aquino to be their guest of honor during the launching of the Lanao del Sur Negosyo Center last May 19, 2017 in Marawi City as he is the author of the GoNegosyo Law. I was unfortunately misquoted by some reporters as having said so. What I said was that there were reports that some opposition senators and leaders who went to Marawi to recruit local politicians and warlords to destabilize the Duterte administration. I never said that they were successful in recruiting any local politicians and warlords. To the Alonto and Lucman families, my sincere apologies for any confusion about this issue. Thank you.
(With a report from Jigger J. Jerusalem, Philippine News Agency)