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Bad grammar causes Aguirre confirmation headaches

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II takes a call as senators go into closed-door meeting during his confirmation hearing on Wednesday, Feb. 15, 2016. Paolo Romero/Twitter

MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II learned the the consequences of bad grammar the hard way when his statement on drug addicts and criminals not being part of humanity was used in questioning his competence to lead the agency.

Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV criticized the pronouncement of Aguirre that drug suspects, drug lords and other criminals "are not humanity," saying that as justice secretary he should not be making such statements because that is at the heart of his job.

"That statement smacks into the heart of his job as secretary of justice," Trillanes said at Aguirre's televised confirmation hearing.

Aguirre found himself a defender in Sen. Loren Legarda, chairperson of the commission on appointments handling Aguirre's designation.

"No one agrees with that because the vice chair and I agree that it is not the right grammar," Legarda told Trillanes when he said that some of his colleagues may agree with Aguirre's views.

Legarda claimed that Aguirre's statement was said out of his frustration in the government's campaign against illegal drugs and should not be taken literally. She described the statement as "figurative, hyperbolic." She also said that what Aguirre uttered was not Department of Justice's position on the matter.

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"It was a hyperbolic statement so set that aside. I simply wanted to state that it seemed it was taken out of context or even not grammatically correct. It is not to be taken literally. It is figurative in nature," Legarda said in defending the justice secretary who is facing a slew of issues such as the restoration of special privileges of convicts in return for their testimony on Congress against Sen. Leila De Lima.

Trillanes said that the opinion of Aguirre was just consistent with the DOJ's failure to investigate extrajudicial killings that began when President Rodrigo Duterte assumed the presidency in June last year.

Beyond bad grammar

Aguirre's statement seems part of a pattern among government officials in the Duterte administration to disdain rights for suspects and criminals.

READ: Duterte officials hold drug suspects, criminals not human

Duterte himself justified the killings of criminals not yet proven guilty in courts by questioning if they were humans in the first place.

"Crime against humanity? In the first place, I'd like to be frank with you: Are they humans? What is your definition of a human being," said the president who is known to release incendiary statements which his spokesmen regularly clarify.

Pantaleon Alvarez, the house speaker and a close associate of Duterte, said weeks ago that he had no problem with vigilante killings and that he would prefer a shoot-to-kill order on criminals.

Solicitor General Jose Calida, who as the country's top lawyer is supposed to be the primary champion of legal rights and due process, said in reaction to deaths of drug suspects: "To me, that is not enough."

Trillanes said that the statement basically meant that it's okay for criminals to die and denied due proces because they were not part of humanity.

"They're basically saying they're okay to die because they're criminals. They are not afforded human rights because they are not part of humanity," Trillanes, a former military officer, said.

Trillanes also questioned if these individuals should in the first place be labeled criminals considering that they had not yet been tried in courts.

Legarda agreed with Trillanes on the need to investigate extrajudicial killings in the country. She promised that she would ask Aguirre to conduct an "impartial, transparent investigation."

READ: Leila hits Duterte, Aguirre over inmates’ privileges

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