Speculative, Palace says of Aguirre’s ‘fake news’
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II was speculating when he linked Senators Bam Aquino and Antonio Trillanes IV to the siege of Marawi City by terrorists gunmen from the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute group, Malacañang said on Thursday.
“Unless really fully vetted, they remain speculation as far as we’re concerned,” presidential spokesperson Ernesto Abella said.
“We go by what the President has said—that the troubles are directly due to the Isis,” he said, using the acronym by which the Islamic State (IS) group has also been called.
Aguirre has been doing an “excellent job” and still has the “full trust” of the President, Abella added.
The May 23 attacks in Marawi by IS-inspired gunmen prompted the President to declare martial law in the whole of Mindanao.
‘Like a troll’
Aquino said Aguirre had apologized to him by phone late on Wednesday, but the opposition senator demanded a public apology for the serious allegations made openly by the justice secretary.
Sen. Grace Poe also castigated Aguirre as he “willingly exploits and amplifies such fake news like a troll without a modicum of effort to at least verify the same just to malign political opponents.”
On Wednesday, Aguirre told reporters that Aquino and Trillanes met in Marawi with members of two prominent political clans—the Lucmans and the Alontos—days before the May 23 siege.
“I don’t know why after they went there, the violence broke out after about two weeks,” Aguirre said, adding that the attacks could be part of a destabilization plot against Mr. Duterte.
Another administration critic, Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano, and Ronald Llamas, the political adviser of former President Benigno Aquino III, were also present at the supposed May 2 meeting, Aguirre said, showing reporters a picture of the supposed meeting.
The picture was actually taken at the Iloilo airport two years ago.
Whacked by brickbats for his claims, Aguirre backpedaled, saying the media misquoted him during Wednesday’s press briefing.
“I’m not spreading fake news. The photo did not come from me,” Aguirre said in a text message to reporters on Thursday.
“For the record, I did not say there was a meeting between the two families and some lawmakers prior to the Marawi siege. The said meeting never took place and no member of both families ever met with Senator Trillanes, Congressman Alejano and Ronald Llamas,” Aguirre said.
“I was unfortunately misquoted by some reporters as having said so,” he said.
However, even the state-run Philippine News Agency, quoting Aguirre, reported that the Marawi attack could be part of a plot to oust the President.
“I never said that they were successful in recruiting any local politicians and warlords. To the Alonto and Lucman families, my sincere apologies for any confusion about this issue,” he said.
Despite Aguirre’s apology to him, Aquino said he was considering taking legal action against the justice secretary.—LEILA B. SALAVERRIA, CHRISTINE O. AVENDAÑO AND MARLON RAMOS