MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte told his new Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra to bring back the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) “dignified image” following the resignation of Vitaliano Aguirre II, who was many times criticized for releasing questionable resolutions and unverified claims.
“The President told me to bring back the DOJ’s dignified image,” Guevarra said in a text message to reporters on Friday.
Duterte’s instruction to Guevarra confirms reports the President was displeased with Aguirre, his classmate and fraternity brother at the San Beda law school, due to blunders of the DOJ.
Guevarra, who served as senior deputy executive secretary before his new appointment, said he would first finish his tasks at the Office of the President before starting his job at the DOJ.
In an earlier text message, Guevarra told reporters that the President told him to “do what is right.”
Guevarra took his oath of office before Duterte on Thursday, the same day the chief executive announced that he had accepted Aguirre’s resignation.
Aguirre resigned in the wake of a controversial move by the justice department to clear drug suspects Kerwin Espinosa and Peter Lim of drug-related charges. Espinosa had earlier confessed to drug involvement.
Duterte’s trust in Aguirre reportedly 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.
During his time at the DOJ, Aguirre also drew flak for releasing unverified information.
Duterte’s chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo said Aguirre may have resigned after feeling that the President had already lost trust in him.
“Iyong resignation niya, I remember him when he was being interviewed, ang sabi niya, kapag nakita ko sa body language ni Presidente na he lost his trust in me, I will immediately resign. So iyon ang tingin ko sa kaniyang resignation. Siguro he feels na wala nang tiwala sa kaniya si Presidente,” Panelo said in a radio interview.
Prior to his resignation, Aguirre himself said he never felt “even a whiff” of distrust from the President.
The Palace also denied knowledge of any development involving Aguirre's status in the cabinet until Duterte announced his resignation.