MANILA - The Senate is set to summon Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II to investigate his false claims that several opposition lawmakers were involved in the Maute terrorist group's rampage in Marawi City.
Sen. Grace Poe, chair of the Senate Committee on Public Information, bared this to ABS-CBN News on Friday, noting that Aguirre, being a justice chief, should first verify information he releases to the public.
"Siyempre tatanungin natin si Secretary, 'Saan niyo ba nakukuha ang mga balita niyo? Magkano ba ang budget ng DOJ? Siguro meron naman kayong mga imbestigador,'" Senator Grace Poe, chair, told ABS-CBN News.
The justice chief earlier alleged that Senators Antonio Trillanes and Bam Aquino, as well as Magdalo Party-list Representative Gary Alejano, and Ronald Llamas, political adviser of former president Benigno Aquino III, met with the Alonto and Lucman clans of Marawi City on May 2, three weeks before clashes between terror groups and government troops erupted.
Aguirre later recanted his allegations after it was revealed that the photograph he cited as evidence of the supposed meeting in Maraw City, which he showed to journalists in a press conference on Wednesday, was an image taken in 2015 at the Iloilo Airport.
Still, he ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate the possible involvement of opposition leaders in a purported destabilization plot against the Duterte administration.
PENALIZE FAKE NEWS
Poe did not hide her dismay over Aguirre's blunder and said government officials should be held accountable for the information they provide the public, especially if it deals with national concerns.
"Nakakainsulto lalung-lalo na kapag ikaw ay pinagkakatiwalaan ng hustisya, Department of Justice pa naman, na ikaw mismo ay di gumagawa ng iyong trabaho o homework na iberipika muna ang isang bagay bago ilabas. Ano ba naman yung pag-aralan mo muna bago ka magsasalita?," Poe said.
"Ang gobyerno dapat ang sandalan ng impormasyon ng ating mga kababayan. Kung ang mismong mga sangay ng gobyerno ang nagpapalabas ng mga hindi totoong balita ay sino ang paniniwalaan natin?" she added.
Sen. Joel Villanueva is meanwhile planning to file a bill penalizing individuals who intentionally create fake news and spread false allegations.
"We intend to file a bill that would penalize any person who maliciously creates or intentionally spreads fake news in print, broadcast media or on the internet including social media websites," Villanueva said in a statement.
"Those who author lies and fake news should not be tolerated... We want to strike a balance between democracy and duty to promote a high standard of ethics especially in public service," Villanueva said.
Poe said the communication department, which recently committed a series of blunders recently, may also face budget cuts or reorganization should congressional hearings prove that the agency was in disarray.
The supposed destabilization plot of opposition lawmakers in Marawi City was not Aguirre's first gaffe.
In February, Aguirre drew flak for saying that "criminals are not humans" during a Senate hearing. He later on retracted his statement and shrugged it of as another misquote or grammatical error.
Weeks after, Aguirre committed another blunder by claiming that a so-called "Korean mafia" may be behind the abduction and killing of Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo.
The South Korean Embassy in Manila denied his claims, while both the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the police neither denied nor confirmed Aguirre's allegation.
Police officers, not alleged Korean mafia members, have been charged for Jee's slay.
The Justice secretary also said that the wife of a "high-value" inmate at the national penitentiary was ambushed along Polaris Street, Barangay Poblacion, Makati City in February.
The Makati City Police however denied Aguirre's claims, saying they did not receive any reports of an ambush within the city. -- with a report from Sherrie Ann Torres, ABS-CBN News.