Palace says Aguirre still DOJ chief, denies sacking rumors

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Apr 03 2018 08:18 PM

President Rodrigo Duterte chats with Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II while on board a plane bound for Vietnam on September 28, 2017. King Rodriguez, Malacañang Photo

MANILA - Malacañang on Tuesday said President Rodrigo Duterte has not made any statement on the status of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II amid rumors that the latter has been fired.

In a text message, Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said there was “no statement from the President to that effect” when asked whether Duterte has indeed sacked Aguirre.

Talk about Aguirre’s status as a cabinet member reignited after the Department of Justice (DOJ) was asked to comment on rumors that the President has already given his justice chief the boot.

Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes denied that Aguirre, Duterte’s schoolmate and fraternity brother at the San Beda law school, has been fired.

“Axed? Parang wala naman pong dumating na ganyan na news dito po sa amin. Ang alam ko po is SOJ is having his routine check-up today,” Balmes told reporters in a text message.

Rumors have been swirling that Duterte would soon fire Aguirre over the DOJ’s decisions on certain high-profile cases, including that of drug suspects Kerwin Espinosa and Peter Lim.

Amid public outrage and Duterte's displeasure over the dismissal of the charges, Aguirre ordered a new investigation into Espinosa and Lim's drug case, leaving it “wide open” for new evidence and testimonies.

Aguirre himself earlier dismissed rumors that he was on his way out, saying Duterte continues to trust him.

The House minority bloc led by Quezon Rep. Danilo Suarez has criticized Aguirre’s performance, calling on the President to review his Cabinet. Suarez added Aguirre had "put under question the integrity of his office and attached agencies."

Suarez and Aguirre’s families are known to be political rivals in Quezon province. The justice chief earlier confirmed that his son, Aris, would run for representative in the province’s third legislative district to challenge the minority leader.