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Hontiveros calls Aguirre's stay at DOJ 'a vulgar insult'

Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday urged Vitaliano Aguirre II, the justice chief, to resign. Sen. Risa Hontiveros/Released, File

MANILA, Philippines — Calling his continued occupation of his office as "a vulgar insult," Sen. Risa Hontiveros on Monday called on Vitaliano Aguirre II to step down from his post as justice secretary for perceived violations of the code of conduct of government officials and employees.

Hontiveros made the allegations against Aguirre in a scathing speech on the Senate floor in which she detailed her bases for urging the resignation of the justice chief whom she labeled as "fake news and areglo king" of Padre Faura in the past.

"[T]here is no other respectable option but to call on the Justice Secretary to resign," she said. "Secretary Aguirre undermines our justice system, and his continued stay in office is a vulgar insult to the Filipino people and our efforts for a more just society."

Hontiveros enumerated several reasons for her call in her speech where she also detailed the alleged efforts of an anti-crime group to take the custody of a witness to the killing of a teenager in Caloocan City.

First was the alleged effort to undermine the cases that the National Bureau of Investigation filed against three policemen suspected of illegally killing 17-year-old Kian Loyd Delos Santos on a dark Caloocan alley almost a month ago, according to Hontiveros.

She said, "Ang sinasabi ba niya ay itong witnesses na ito ay minanipula, o tinuruan, gayung haharap ang mga witness na ito sa kanilang departamento para sa preliminary investigation? At best, Mr. President, this undermines the Bureau and the Department's own work."

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Aguirre should also identify parts of the testimonies of the witness that were allegedly manipulated by the senator, she said.

"First of all, by saying tinuruan ko ang testigo, is Secretary Aguirre accusing me of witness manipulation? Iyan po ay isang napakalaking akusasyon," she said, adding that the narrations were consistent with the findings of the investigations and examinations conducted by both the police and the Public Attorney's Office.

Hontiveros also blasted Aguirre for "political vindictiveness" which she described as a "mockery of justice" following her discovery that the justice chief was "plotting a case" against her inside the halls of the chamber while an investigation was underway.

The senator labeled the text of message of Aguirre, captured in a picture, encouraging a certain "Cong. Jing" to file the charges as an "unethical conduct of an official of the executive branch."

Hontiveros believes that this Cong. Jing was Former Negros Oriental Rep. Jacinto Paras, a member of the Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, an anti-crime group generally supportive of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Jacinto's group recently filed an impeachment complaint against elections chief Andres Bautista for his alleged breaches of law and public trust.

She also accused Aguirre of targeting political opposition by filing cases against its members.

"Si Senator Leila, kinasuhan ng drug charges gamit ang mga testigo na convicted criminals—malinaw na paglabag sa batas hinggil sa state witnesses," she said, referring to Sen. Leila De Lima who is currently detained at Camp Crame on allegations that she was involved in the trade of narcotics at the national penitentiary during her time as justice chief.

It seemed that the motivation of Aguirre was not public service but "political vendetta," according to the senator.

She said, "Our laws on accountability should be weapons for truth and better governance, not weapons wielded against political opponents who do not toe the line."

Aguirre's behavior of cooperating with the VACC to file cases which would be forwarded to his office was unethical and unbecoming of a member of the civil service, according to the senator.

"There are no words, Mr. President, for this kind of lutong macau. There are no words!" Hontiveros said.

Hontiveros said that Aguirre violated Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees which required "highest degree of excellence, professionalism, intelligence and skill" among government employees.

Aguirre's past blunders also did not escape Hontiveros' memory.

"Mr. President, hindi na bago sa atin ang kapalpakan ng Secretary of Justice," said Hontiveros who recalled an incident in which Aguirre accused Sens. Antonio Trillanes IV and Bam Aquino, both members of the Senate minority, of being involved in the siege of Marawi City.

She added: "Hindi ba opisina niya ang nagdowngrade ng kaso ng mga pulis na pumaslang kay Albuera Mayor Rolando Espinosa? Hindi ba siya ang nakipagkita kay Jack Lam sa isang hotel sa The Fort, bagamat si Jack Lam ay may mga hinaharap na kasong nakahain at iniimbestigahan?"

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