By Argyll Cyrus Geducos
Despite the dismissal of the charges against two high-profile drug suspects, Malacañang said that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II still enjoys the trust and confidence of President Duterte.
Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque issued the statement following the calls of some lawmakers for Aguirre’s resignation or removal from office after the Department of Justice (DOJ) on Monday dismissed charges against drug suspects Kerwin Espinosa and Peter Lim.
The decision of the DOJ prompted Duterte to say that he will put Aguirre behind bars if the two drug suspects will go free without being punished.
“(Kapag) nakawala ‘yan si Lim at Espinosa, siya ang ipapalit ko (I will put Aguirre behind bars if Lim and Espinosa will go free). I can review that dismissal order. Nag-amin na nga sa Congress (Espinosa already admitted in Congress)! Why not admit it as evidence against him?” Roque quoted Duterte as saying Tuesday.
Roque, during the Thursday Palace press briefing, reported that Duterte said he still trusts Aguirre despite his disappointment over the dismissal of the charges against the two drug suspects.
“He said so (President Duterte said that he trusts him). But as I said, while you don’t take the President literally, you must take him seriously,” Roque said.
“He could consider this as a joke and he said it in a rather jokingly manner. But he doesn’t waste words. I think the message is, he’s not happy with the decision,” he added.
When asked if Duterte now doubts Aguirre, Roque said that the President will not hesitate to fire the Justice Secretary if the chief executive will lose trust on his men.
“Hindi ko po alam. Siguro po the trust remains dahil kung hindi naman, sisisantehin po siya ng Presidente (I don’t know if there is now doubt but I think the trust remains because if not, the President would have already kicked him out),” Roque said.
“The President has not hesitated to fire even members of the Cabinet. For as long as he has not been fired, he enjoys the trust and confidence of the President,” he added.
Roque also said that he believes that Aguirre has already gotten Duterte’s message.
“I think he has (taken President Duterte’s message seriously). That’s why he has already taken steps to create a new investigation panel,” he said.
The Palace official, meanwhile, explained that it’s not an issue whether or not Duterte knew of the DOJ decision as it is the President’s policy to leave certain matters to agencies responsible.
“I don’t think it’s an issue that the President did not know about it. But when the President found out, he made his sentiments very clear,” he said.
“I think what the President said is a very clear expression of concern that he will not allow suspected drug lords to go scot-free,” he added.
Meanwhile, Roque believed that there is no link between Aristotle Reyes, one of the prosecutors who cleared Espinosa and Lim of the drug charges, and the two drug suspects.
“I don’t think so and it’s far-fetched. If at all, if he (President Duterte) knew he cleared these individuals, he (Reyes) probably would not have been appointed.
Duterte appointed Reyes as Lucena City Regional Trial Court (RTC) judge last September, 2017, a month after the preliminary investigation of Lim and Espinosa began.