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Aguirre resigns, Guevarra is justice dep't chief

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Photo: Presidential Communications Operations Office


MANILA — President Rodrigo Duterte has accepted the resignation of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II.


“I accepted the resignation of Vit Aguirre, my fraternity brother,” Duterte announced in a Malacanang event a day after Aguirre attended his last Cabinet meeting.


Speaking in Malacañang, Duterte said Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra is acting justice secretary.


Prior to Duterte’s announcement, Aguirre had attended Wednesday’s cabinet meeting.


There had been talk about Aguirre’s impending departure from the Duterte Cabinet even before the Holy Week, but the justice chief’s attendance at a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, April 4 seemed to suggest otherwise. At the end of the Cabinet meeting, Aguirre even had his photo taken beside Duterte, which he released to the media.


The justice chief’s resignation follows weeks of speculation after Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque said changes in the Cabinet were underway due to Duterte’s dissatisfaction with some secretaries.


Aguirre had earlier said he did not feel alluded to by the President’s statement.


Rumors of Aguirre’s departure from the Duterte government started mid-March when the Department of Justice (DoJ) panel of prosecutors dismissed drug trade charges against confessed drug lord Kerwin Espinosa and his alleged partner in the Visayan drug trade, Cebu-based businessman Peter Lim.


Lim was among the first alleged drug lords to get a death threat from Duterte himself early in his administration. The dismissal of charges against the alleged big-time drug lord raised doubts on the legitimacy of the government’s war on drugs.


It also put the DoJ at odds with the police, as panel of prosecutors blamed the latter for giving them weak evidence against the alleged drug lords. The Philippine National Police, in turn, criticized the prosecutors for not giving police a heads up that they needed stronger evidence against the suspects.


Duterte was furious over the dismissal of charges and had “joked” about putting Aguirre behind bars if charges against Espinosa and Lim are dismissed with finality, according to his spokesman. This prompted Aguirre to assemble a new team to conduct fresh investigation into the charges. Lim is scheduled to appear before the DoJ on April 12 for new hearings.


In the weeks that followed, more controversies hounded Aguirre and the DoJ.


Aguirre put alleged pork barrel scam mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles under provisional state protection. It was also revealed that Napoles’ lawyer, Stephen David, enjoyed easy access to him and Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea.


Aguirre previously served as Vice President and chief legal counsel of Clark Development Corporation under former President Benigno Aquino III.


Guevarra, the new justice secretary, was said to be responsible for writing important Palace documents like executive orders and memorandum orders from the President.


Also, he supposedly drafted the martial law proclamation in Mindanao.


He graduated from the Ateneo School of Law and placed second in the 1985 bar examinations.

Thelma Cruz

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