Hope, despair, elation. The Holy Week narrative from Palm Sunday to the Passion and Resurrection? Well, no. Just the public mood that swung just as wildly at the news that the controversial Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre was about to be fired by President Duterte—a report stoutly denied by Malacañang, then eventually confirmed by the President himself.
Aguirre’s removal from the President’s official family was a long time coming. Has any other holder of a Cabinet portfolio in recent memory had as tumultuous a tenure, as squalid a record, as Aguirre as head of the Department of Justice? His watch was a disgraceful time for the DOJ: He fecklessly transformed his powerful post into a virtual battering ram with which to browbeat the administration’s critics while he engaged in the most sordid politicking, debasing the very notions of justice that he was sworn to uphold.
It was during Aguirre’s watch that the nation beheld the startling spectacle of the DOJ colluding publicly with convicted drug felons to accuse a sitting senator of drug trafficking. Exhibiting none of the judiciousness and discretion his position requires, he lit indiscriminate fires with his pronouncements: For example, he accused prominent political families in Marawi of conspiring with opposition forces to stoke discord in the besieged city, even showing off a cell phone photo that turned out to be fake. When confronted, the “perya barker,” as Sen. Grace Poe once described him, was forced to apologize over national TV.
He appeared to be knee-deep in the scandal that ensnared two of his fraternity brothers-turned-immigration officials, who were caught on camera receiving millions of pesos in an evident bribe from a Chinese casino kingpin. Also caught on camera during a Senate hearing: Aguirre apparently conspiring through text messages with political hatchet men to expedite cases against opposition senator Risa Hontiveros.
Those are the relatively lighter cases. The heavyweight ones involved no less than the integrity of the government’s bloody war on drugs that has claimed thousands of Filipino lives, even as Aguirre’s careless handling of the prosecutorial aspects of it led from one debacle to another. Nothing, for one, has come so far of the inquiry into the P6.4-billion “shabu” smuggling scandal at Customs—the biggest haul to be intercepted in the country, and apparently only a fraction of a much bigger shipment from China that got away and that implicated, via direct testimony by whistle-blower Mark Taguba at the Senate, a number of highly placed persons, among them the President’s son, former Davao vice mayor Paolo Duterte.
Most recently, it was found that the DOJ had dismissed the charges against confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and several others, among them Peter Lim, whom Mr. Duterte himself had publicly threatened to kill for allegedly being a drug kingpin in the Visayas. The prosecutors’ shocking resolution on the dismissal of charges was kept from the public for three long months. When it was uncovered by journalists, Aguirre first feigned ignorance, saying he had no hand in his subordinates’ decision. Then, absurdly, hilariously, he blamed the incarcerated Sen. Leila de Lima for supposedly working with her minions still working at the DOJ to cast him, the justice secretary, in a bad light.
Mr. Duterte, meanwhile, was said to have been furious at the exoneration of Espinosa
et al.—to the extent of punching a wall in anger, according to the dramatic account of the chief of the national police. But the gawking bystander would impertinently wonder: How could it have been possible for lowly prosecutors to make such a critical decision relating to the President’s pet enterprise without the big shots themselves being in the know?
The resulting public outrage appeared to have done what shame could not: The President
announced, without disclosing details, that he had accepted Aguirre’s resignation. Yet earlier there was the typical hee-hawing from the Palace, to the effect that the justice secretary “still enjoys the trust and confidence of the President,” etc.—prevaricating and farcical to the bitter end.
Never mind. After the thorough thrashing that it endured under Aguirre’s leadership, it’s time for general cleaning at the Department of Justice.
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