Vitaliano Aguirre II first hit the headlines in 2012 when, as one of the private prosecutors in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona, he covered his ears while the late Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago was scolding prosecutors for withdrawing the remaining articles of impeachment on the 26th day of the trial.
“You’ve been misleading the court! I’m very concerned that the prosecution has been in bad faith all along. You’ve been saying to media, ‘Panalo na kami.’ Kami ang magdedesisyon niyan, hindi kayo. Ang yayabang niyo! Mga gago naman! (You are being conceited! Stupid!)” the feisty Santiago said in her speech.
After Sen. Jinggoy Estrada informed the body of Aguirre’s “disrespectful” act, then Senate President Juan Ponce Enrile called for a recess, but Santiago continued to chastise Aguirre, who was later cited for contempt by the Senate, acting as an impeachment court.
Actually, Aguirre had not shied away from controversy even before that episode. The San Beda law class valedictorian was the lawyer for his classmate and fraternity brother, then Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte, when then Commission on Human Rights Chair Leila de Lima was investigating the alleged Davao Death Squad.
Aguirre also represented retired police officer Bienvenido Laud, also known as “Tatay Laud,” whom he defended up to the Supreme Court to try to block authorities from searching his quarry in Davao City, said to have been a burial ground of those supposedly killed by the DDS.
In 2009, De Lima, armed with a search warrant issued by a Manila judge, led a team that dug the quarry in search of evidence to claims by a self-confessed killer that he and six others were instructed by “Tatay Laud” to bring bodies of their victims to three caves in the quarry site. They were stopped by Aguirre, who argued before the Supreme Court that the search warrant was invalid as it was issued by a judge in Manila, who, he said, had no territorial jurisdiction. The digging had already yielded some leg bones, skull parts and some license plates.
The Supreme Court eventually ruled that the search warrant was valid after five years, in 2014, but no search was conducted again.
In 2016, after Duterte was proclaimed president-elect, Aguirre was among the first appointees to his Cabinet. In just the second month of his presidency, Duterte started the persecution of De Lima, alleging that De Lima had been having an affair with her driver, Ronnie Dayan, who Duterte also alleged functioned as De Lima’s collector for drug protection money when she was the justice secretary.
A few months later, De Lima was detained on drug-related charges for allegedly using her position as Secretary of Justice to acquire money from drug pushers inside the National Bilibid Prison to make their drug business operational even though they are imprisoned
In all these cases against De Lima, Aguirre was in the forefront of her public persecution and prosecution, which was obviously in retaliation for her vociferous opposition of Duterte’s brutal drug war and for her past investigation of the Davao Death Squad.
Shortly after De Lima’s incarceration in February, Aguirre proved he was also an effective rabble-rouser when he spoke in a pro-Duterte rally and asked boastfully who the crowd wanted to be arrested next, to which the Duterte trolls shouted “Trillanes!” When questioned by senators on his highly partisan act, he said it was just a joke.
After revealing him as a jester cum justice secretary, Aguirre earned another title as the “Fake News King” after he stated that Vice President Leni Robredo stayed in the home of Fil-Am community leader Loida Nicolas-Lewis, who has been erroneously tagged by Duterte and Aguirre as the leader of a plot to oust the President. This was denied by both Robredo and Lewis.
In February after the abduction and killing of South Korean Jee Ick Joo allegedly by rogue policemen, Aguirre blamed the Korean Mafia, which, he said, has extended its reach to the Philippines. This claim was never proven nor followed up.
Later, he again proved he was worthy of the title “Fake News King” when he told reporters that the wife of one of the inmates who testified against De Lima was ambushed. Of course, it was not true, with no less than the Philippine National Police denying there was such an ambush.
At the height of the Marawi siege on June 7, Aguirre suggested that Senators Bam Aquino and Antonio Trillanes IV, and Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano might be involved in the planning of the siege. Showing a picture of the three and Rolando Llamas, former political adviser of former President Noynoy Aquino, meeting with the heads of the prominent Lucman and Alonto families allegedly on May 2, the justice secretary said the Maute attack could be part of a destabilization plot against Duterte because, he said, two weeks after the alleged meeting, the siege started.
It turned out that the picture was from the Facebook wall of Zamboanga del Sur Vice Governor Ace Cerilles and was taken on Sept. 4, 2015 at the Iloilo International Airport. At the same time, Aquino, Trillanes and Alejano proved beyond reasonable doubt that they were not in Marawi on May 2 and were, in fact, in the capital attending congressional session.
Aguirre never apologized for the grievous error, saying he made it clear to the media that it was just a raw intelligence report, but the reporters protested and presented video recording of the press conference.
Trillanes commented: “The incompetence of Aguirre is only matched by his stupidity. I would advise him to avoid getting his intel from Facebook conspiracy theorists.”
He has been called a joker, the Fake News King, a rabble-rouser, and a fiesta barker. But based on the damage he has done as head of the Department of Justice, we can call him the Secretary of Injustice.