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After photo blunder, Aguirre orders probe into 'destabilization plot'

After being labeled as a "troll" and a "clown" for his false claim linking some opposition figures to the siege of Marawi City, Justice Secretary Vitalinao Aguirre II ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to conduct a probe and case build-up, and, if warranted, file cases against individuals related to the alleged destabilization plot against the government. AP/Aaron Favila, File

MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Friday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate and, if warranted, file cases against some lawmakers and opposition leaders over alleged efforts to destabilize the government.

The justice secretary’s order came days after he made an about face on a statement linking some staunch critics of President Rodrigo Duterte to the siege of Marawi City using an old photo and the attack on a Manila casino complex.

Aguirre released Department Order 385 ordering the NBI to conduct a probe and do a case build-up on the alleged destabilization plot against the government being brewed by some senators and leaders of the opposition.

In the same order, Aguirre said that cases should be filed against liable individuals if there was evidence.

“The National Bureau of Investigation, through Director Dante A. Gierran, is hereby directed and granted authority to conduct investigation and case build-up over the alleged destabilization plot against the government of the Republic of the Philippines by some senators and other opposition leaders,” the order said.

It added: “[I]f evidence warrants,…file the appropriate cases against those who may be found liable.”

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Aguirre also directed Gierran to submit a report to his office on the activities it had done in relation to the implementation of his order.

On Wednesday, Aguirre faced the media and said that he was set to order an investigation into Sen. Bam Aquino’s recent visit to Marawi City and the supposed connection of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo Rep. Gary Alejano to the Maute group terrorists.

Aguirre said that these lawmakers met with the Lucman and Alonto clans in Marawi City before the siege of the city. He also teased a photo of the supposed meeting of the group earlier circulating social media, but it was later found to be taken years ago.

'Facebook intel'

Opposition senators blasted Aguirre for using what they branded as “Facebook intel.”

Trade and Industry Secretary Ramon Lopez had already cleared the name of Aquino of false accusations regarding his Marawi visit even before Aguirre’s “revelation.”

Aguirre later that day recanted his statement, saying that he was merely “unfortunately misquoted” by the media.

Sen. Grace Poe on Thursday likened the justice secretary to a “troll” for spreading canard and not verifying his information before releasing it to the public.

She said that the Congress should craft a law that would help address the spread of false information especially on social media.

Sen. Leila De Lima, on the other hand, called the justice secretary the "clown" of the administration for his false claims.

Media groups criticized Aguirre for saying that the media "misquoted" him, saying they quoted him verbatim and reported only the facts to their audience.

"As recorded in our videos and voice recorders and even in our Facebook Live coverages, we quoted Secretary Aguirre verbatim and only reported the facts to our viewers and readers  including the fact that he showed a photo from his mobile phone supposedly showing the meeting between the senators and Muslim clans in Marawi last May 2," the Justice and Court Reporters Association said in a statement.

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