MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II whipped up a storm on Wednesday when he claimed opposition politicians had met with prominent clans in Marawi City before fighting broke out between government forces and extremists, insinuating these events might be linked and part of a destabilization plot against the administration.
Despite having had to take back most of his claims, particularly that against Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, and apologize to the Lucman and Alonto clans whose names he dragged into the firestorm, Aguirre has so far refused to acknowledge any wrong on his part.
He has instead blamed journalists covering his office, first for supposedly “misquoting him” — the journalists stood their ground, their reports backed by video and audio recordings — and later for reporting what he now insists was “raw” information, although he apparently saw nothing wrong with making this information public at the time.
But a number of his statements and actions since have contradicted each other. Here are verbatim excerpts from interviews and statements of Aguirre on the issue:
At the June 7 press briefing where he first raised the claims against the opposition politicians, Aguirre said it was not for him to investigate the information.
QUESTION: When you said separate investigation, meaning magfo-form ang NBI?
AGUIRRE: This is … sa mga intelligence (agencies) na ito, hindi na sa akin siguro, kasi hindi naman tayo intelligence, wala naman tayo diyan …
He was then asked if the supposed meetings would shift the focus of investigations into the Marawi crisis from terrorism to destabilization.
QUESTION: So hindi na terrorism ang focus ng investigation?
AGUIRRE: Iba ‘yan. Puwedeng terrorism, this could be the spark, kaya nangyari ang terroristic acts sa Marawi.
QUESTION: Ano ang nag-spark, ‘yung meeting?
AGUIRRE: ‘Yung agitation, siyempre kinukuha nila ‘yung …
But on Friday, Aguirre confirmed having ordering the NBI “to conduct investigation and case build-up over the alleged destabilization plot against the government by some opposition senators and leaders,” and if evidence warrants, to file the appropriate cases against those who may be found liable.”
The order, which was also released to media, is dated June 7, the same day he said he would not handle the investigation on the alleged destabilization efforts.
It was also that day when he clearly named the politicians he insinuated were part of the supposed plot:
AGUIRRE: Because sina Senator Bam Aquino, hindi naman, sinasabi ko lang, ano, na he went to Marawi on April 24, and April 28, and they stayed, they had a meeting at Lake View Resort Hotel on May 2. Present were Senator Aquino, Ronald Llamas, (Representative Gary) Alejano, (Senator Antonio IV) Trillanes and some clans doon sa Marawi. Mga Moro family. So hindi ko malaman why after they went there, nagkagulo na after about two weeks.
QUESTION: Ano ibig mong sabihin Sir? Anong gusto mo …
AGUIRRE: They met with the people there,
QUESTION: Kasama ang Maute?
AGUIRRE: Hindi ko alam, basta ang sinabi sa akin, they met with several families there, kasama mga Lucman, kasama family ng Alonto, but I don’t want to connect it, unless there is evidence doon sa money taken, seized.
QUESTION: May nagbanggit sa ‘yo kung paano naging agenda ng meeting?
AGUIRRE: I’m going to talk with my asset, my informant, who was there at the meeting …
In the “further clarification” he issued Friday, Aguirre cleared Aquino but stopped short of apologizing to the senator and then went on to blame media for the controversy:
“For everyone’s clarification, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre would like to reiterate that during the press conference on Wednesday, June 7, 2017, he told the media that the information he got were very raw and he wanted to verify and investigate further. He repeatedly that he does not want to speculate pending the investigation. Only that the media didn’t mention my repeated precautions that he is yet to fully verify the truth of reported incident. In fact, he immediately issued a Department order directing the NBI to conduct investigation and case build-up over the alleged destabilization plot against the government by some opposition senators and leaders.
“Upon further verification, I was able to establish that Sen. Bam Aquino went to Marawi City on May 19, 2017 upon invitation of Gov. Soraya Alonto-Adiong to promote the Go Negosyo Program . He was not present in the alleged meeting of opposition leaders said to have been held in Marawi City on May 2, 2017. I did not give, release or send to anyone any picture of any Marawi meeting. The picture of an alleged meeting allegedly taken in 2015 did not come from me. Thank you.”
The picture he referred to was one that he briefly showed to journalists during the June 7 briefer as he made his claims about the supposed May 2 meeting. That photo was actually lifted from the Facebook account of Zamboanga del Sur Vice Governor Ace Cerilles showing him with Trillanes, Alejano, Llamas and Mark Lapid at the Iloilo International Airport on September 4, 2015.
And in an ambush interview during the anniversary of the Office of the Solicitor General on Thursday, Aguirre accused media of being “unfair” over the photo:
AGUIRRE: Tapos sasabihin ako ang nagbigay ng picture. Unfair kayo! Wala akong binibigay kahit isang picture.
JV: Pero may pinakita ka sa amin Sir…
AGUIRRE: Bakit, ‘yun ba ang pinakita kong picture?
WATCH THE VIDEO REPORT BY NEWS5’S JV ARCENA: