MANILA (2ND UPDATE) - President Rodrigo Duterte said Thursday he has accepted the resignation of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.
Speaking in Malacañang, Duterte said he is now looking for the replacement of Aguirre, his classmate and fraternity brother at the San Beda law school.
Prior to Duterte’s announcement, Aguirre had attended Wednesday’s cabinet meeting, quashing talks that the justice secretary was on his way out.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said there had been no discussion of Aguirre’s fate during the cabinet meeting.
Palace sources said Duterte has named Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra as DOJ officer-in-charge.
The Philippine Star, citing reliable sources, had reported that Aguirre could be fired by the President during Wednesday’s cabinet meeting or anytime this week.
Rumors had been swirling that Duterte would fire Aguirre as the President has allegedly had enough of the justice secretary over his department’s handling of various cases.
Duterte recently slammed Aguirre after the justice department cleared drug suspects Kerwin Espinosa and Peter Lim of charges.
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.
The Philippine Star also reported that Duterte’s trust in Aguirre started eroding after the latter was implicated in the P50-million bribery scandal involving resigned Bureau of Immigration deputy commissioners Al Argosino and Michael Robles.
Argosino and Robles were recently charged before the anti-graft court by the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly extorting money from Chinese businessman Jack Lam.
Aguirre’s role in the bribery scandal was scrutinized after it was revealed that he agreed to meet with Lam and his representative Wally Sombero at a hotel to discuss the arrest of over 1,000 of Lam’s Chinese employees from the Fontana Leisure Parks and Casino in Clark, Pampanga.
After the meeting, Aguirre instructed Argosino to face Lam, resulting in the exchange of money that became one of the first major corruption crises faced by the Duterte administration.
During his time at the Department of Justice, Aguirre also drew flak for spreading unverified information.