Senators gang up on Aguirre for Rizal Park remarks
If only they could recall his confirmation.
But since they could no longer do anything about that mistake, senators on Monday slammed Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II for “dangerously promoting a lynch mob culture” during a gathering of President Duterte’s supporters at Rizal Park in Manila on Saturday.
At the rally held far from the main celebration of the 31st anniversary of the People Power Revolution on Edsa on Saturday, Aguirre took the stage and asked the crowd, “Who do you want to be jailed next?”
Fired up, the supporters of Mr. Duterte shouted the names of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, Vice President Leni Robredo and former President Benigno Aquino III.
On Friday, police arrested Sen. Leila de Lima, the highest-profile critic of Mr. Duterte and his brutal war on drugs, on drug charges that the opposition lawmaker described as “all lies” and “manufactured” by Mr. Duterte and his allies to get back at her for investigating his links to extrajudicial killings in Davao when he was mayor of the city.
Besides trying to prove that Mr. Duterte has hidden wealth, Trillanes has produced another confessed hit man of the so-called Davao Death Squad (DDS), who publicly confessed last week that he killed people on orders from Mr. Duterte.
Robredo beat former Sen. Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in last year’s vice presidential election, while Aquino is the son of former President Corazon Aquino, who led the Edsa People Power Revolution that toppled dictator Ferdinand Marcos, for whom Mr. Duterte has professed admiration and whose family helped bankroll his campaign for Malacañang.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros said she found it “disconcerting” that Aguirre resorted to “crowdsourcing” to pick the next target of persecution, adding that the justice secretary was “dangerously promoting a lynch mob culture.”
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said Aguirre’s remarks were “reckless and irresponsible.”
“Cases are filed based on the evidence and the evidence only, yet here we have a secretary of justice asking the crowd as to who is to be charged and jailed next,” he said.
Trillanes said he was not afraid, and vowed to continue exposing the administration’s wrongdoings.
“For me, do your worst because I cannot also be stopped from going after them,” Trillanes said.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III, an ally of Mr. Duterte, told reporters his ethics committee had received a complaint against Trillanes. He did not elaborate.
At the Meet Inquirer Multimedia forum on Monday, Senators Juan Edgardo “Sonny” Angara, Sherwin Gatchalian, Juan Miguel Zubiri, Joel Villanueva and JV Ejercito blasted Aguirre for his “reckless” remarks.
They described Aguirre’s question to the crowd as “unbecoming of a justice secretary.”
Angara, Ejercito and Zubiri serve on the Commission on Appointments, which confirmed Aguirre’s appointment just last week.
Zubiri recalled that before confirming Aguirre, the commission told him point-blank that he had a “penchant for talking a lot.”
The commission reminded Aguirre to be tactful and not include his biases in his public statements, Zubiri said, adding that he had hoped Aguirre learned a lesson from that experience.
But it had been only days when Aguirre went up the stage at Rizal Park and displayed the ox bow to intimidate critics of the administration.
“It doesn’t look good if the two senators jailed are the two most vehement critics of the administration. There has to be a certain level of tolerance for criticism,” Angara said.
Why was he there?
Zubiri said Aguirre should not have been at the Rizal Park rally in the first place, because “as justice secretary, you, too, should present a very fair position on those issues.”
“That statement was not proper at the event. He fueled crowd’s (passion),” Gatchalian said. “It was not proper. We don’t want to see a divided nation. We want to see unified nation. . . I don’t think it was proper for a justice secretary to go there and incite the crowd.”
Ejercito said the Commission on Appointments confirmed Aguirre after the nominee apologized to Senators Francis Pangilinan, De Lima and Trillanes for making rash comments about them and they accepted his apology.
But it was unfortunate that only days later, he was at it again, Ejercito said.
Aguirre said he was just joking.
“They have no sense of humor,” Aguirre smilingly told reporters on Monday after hearing that he was being skewered for his Rizal Park remarks.
“It’s like a political rally. In political rallies, there’s entertainment,” he said.
So he was just joking?
“What else? They are making a mountain out of a molehill,” he replied.
He said he respected his critics’ opinion. “Next time, my speech will be more appropriate,” he promised. —WITH A REPORT FROM MARLON RAMOS