MANILA - Former Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II and columnist Mon Tulfo on Tuesday hurled insults at each other during a Senate investigation into an alleged corruption scheme at the Bureau of Immigration.
In March, Tulfo had told senators that Aguirre was the "protector" of a Chinese-linked syndicate at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA), but this was the first time the former Justice chief appeared before the panel to give his side.
"Not an iota of evidence was presented linking me to the 'pastillas scheme," Aguirre said during the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality hearing on the "pastillas" scheme.
"He made them (Bureau of Immigration) appear as lame ducks because of me... even if I have been out of government office in the past 2 years," he said.
Aguirre resigned as Justice Secretary in April 2018, while the "pastillas" scheme, which involves wrapping bribes in paper similar to the traditional Filipino delicacy, was bared. The bribes allegedly for immigration officers facilitated the entry of illegal Chinese workers into the country.
While Tulfo showed pictures of Aguirre's friends and appointees riding a helicopter that allegedly delivered bribes to the former Cabinet member's property in Quezon, the lawyer said that the pictures do not prove his involvement in the syndicate.
"Bakit hindi mo pinag-affidavit 'yung lahat ng nag-supply sa iyo [ng pictures]? Nasan ang isang testigo mo na magpapatotoo na may pera 'yang dinadala?" Aguirre said.
(Why didn't you ask those who provided you with pictures to sign affidavits? Where is your witness who will prove that money is being transported there?)
"Anong klaseng ebidensya yan? Ni-Grade 1 student hindi maniniwala diyan... Puwede ba 'yung completely hearsay?" he said.
(What kind of evidence is that? Even a Grade 1 student would not believe it... Should we believe it when it's completely hearsay?)
Tulfo accused Aguirre of lying, saying the former justice chief "groped for words."
"When a man gropes for words, iniisip niya ano sasabihin niya. That is a sign of lying," Tulfo said.
"Akala ko magaling kang abogado? Akala ko number 1 ka sa klase mo sa law bakit hirap na hirap ka magsalita?" he asked Aguirre, who graduated valedictorian at the San Beda law school.
The exchange got personal when Tulfo accused Aguirre of being kicked out of Duterte's Cabinet because the former Justice chief was "stupid."
"Madame chair, sinungaling 'yan (Aguirre). That's it. Kaya nga siguro inalis ni Pangulong Digong 'yan dahil bobo 'yan," the columnist said.
Aguirre denied that the President asked him to tender his resignation, but did not explain why he stepped down from his post in 2018.
Tulfo and Aguirre both admitted to being friends, but said that ties have been severed after the former Justice Secretary denied the columnist's request to have some 90 cases against him consolidated.
"It got me the ire of Mr. Tulfo. He accused me of courting the favor of Iglesia Ni Cristo, saying I had plans to run for the May 2019 elections," Aguirre said.
"'Pag sinabi ng mga Tulfo, dapat pagbigyan mo sila otherwise yayariin ka sa mga column, sa mga programa," he said.
(When the Tulfos tell you to do something, you have to do it otherwise they will hit you in their columns, in ther programs.)
"Ganiyan ka-feeling entitled ang mga Tulfo. Akala mo kung sinong mga hari," he said.
(That is how entitled the Tulfos are. They think they are kings.)
Aguirre also admonished Tulfo for not having a debt of gratitude towards him after he represented the columnist in a case after celebrities Raymart Santiago and Claudine Barretto "mauled" him in an airport in 2012.
"Wala kayong mga utang na loob. Dinepensa ko nang walang bayad," Aguirre said.
(You don't have a debt of gratitude. I defended you for free.)
"My reputation and my family's reputation is at stake here... I challenge Mr. Tulfo to file cases against me and face me in the proper forum. You have no right to use this august body to malign and discredit me," he said.
The verbal tussle ended after Committee chair Sen. Risa Hontiveros dismissed the hearing, lamenting the two men's unruly demeanor.