At least Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre is man enough to apologize. We use this reflexively sexist phrase deliberately, because other members of the incumbent he-man club find it very difficult to own up to their mistakes, when they do make mistakes. The question is: Why does the head of the Department of Justice end up making so many of these mistakes for which he has to later apologize?
On Wednesday, he apologized to Sen. Bam Aquino and two prominent Muslim families for implicating them in the Maute Group’s serial acts of terrorism in Marawi City. On Thursday, the justice secretary said: “To the Alonto and Lucman families, my sincere apologies for any confusion about this issue.” (As far as we know, he hasn’t yet apologized to Sen. Antonio Trillanes, Rep. Gary Alejano and former presidential adviser Ronald Llamas, whom he also implicated.)
Last January, he apologized to Senators Francis “Kiko” Pangilinan and Leila de Lima for telling reporters that the two senators, together with Trillanes, were supposedly planning to offer immunity to witnesses in the P50-million bribery scandal at the Bureau of Immigration that had included even Aguirre in its sweep. “I apologize to Senator Kiko, a good public servant and an even better person, for any blemish caused to his unsullied reputation,” he said at a hearing of the blue ribbon committee. In the same hearing, he apologized to De Lima after she asked for it (and committee chair Sen. Richard Gordon asked about it).
In February, at a hearing of the Commission on Appointments, he apologized to Trillanes for calling him names. This was, again, in connection with the BI corruption scandal. “Due to the pressure and volume of my work, I might have hurt people in my choice of words and for that I profusely apologize specifically to Senator Trillanes,” he said.
Later that same month, he apologized to the public for his politically charged remarks at a rally in Luneta. In that rally, held the day after De Lima was arrested, the official who has both the National Bureau of Investigation and the country’s corps of prosecutors under his command egged on an enthusiastic crowd. “Who do you want jailed next?” he asked in Filipino. (The crowd answered: Trillanes.) Among his critics, Sen. Grace Poe took him to task for acting like a barker at a fair, rather than as justice secretary. In a radio interview, Aguirre later said: “If for [the critics] my comment for that particular incident was not appropriate, sorry na lang and I’ll be more tactful in the future.”
The accusation Aguirre leveled on Wednesday at the Alonto and Lucman families and at Aquino, Trillanes et al. was not tactful at all; rather, it was speculative in the extreme, but he went right ahead and said it anyway. “Sen. Bam Aquino went to Marawi on April 24 and April 28. They stayed there … . Present were, I think, Aquino, Ronald Llamas, Alejano, Trillanes and some clans there in Marawi. They were Moro families,” Aguirre told reporters at a press briefing. “I don’t know why after they went there, the violence broke out after about two weeks.” Asked whether the Maute Group was part of the meeting, he replied: “I don’t know. I was told that they met with several families there, including the Lucmans, along with the Alonto family.”
As it turns out, none of what Aguirre said was true. Even the photo he held up as proof of the meeting was quickly proven to be something else; it was taken on Sept. 4, 2015, in Iloilo City. As for the families, they are close supporters of President Duterte. On Thursday, Aguirre sought to make amends: “There was no intent on my part to implicate the Alonto and Lucman families in the crisis 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.”
According to Aquino, Aguirre’s personal apology to him included a statement that the justice secretary had been “confused” by the events. Well, that confusion extends to the secretary now putting the blame on the media for “misquoting” him. But the evidence, the documentation of his remarks, is both clear and ample. His remarks, like his apologies, were on the record.
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