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Aguirre links opposition solons to Marawi, Resorts World

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Aguirre links opposition solons to Marawi, Resorts World

Vitaliano Aguirre (pictured leftmost), President Rodrigo Duterte's justice secretary, has fresh accusations over what he thinks are possible links of Sens. Bam Aquino, Leila de Lima and Antonio Trillanes IV to recent national tragedies in the Philippines. The three legislators are staunch critics of Duterte.

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 4:25 p.m.) — The chief of the Department of Justice has dragged the most outspoken critics of President Rodrigo Duterte into the attack of terror groups in Marawi City and the tragedy at Resorts World Manila.

Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II is set to order an investigation into Sen. Bam Aquino's visit to Marawi, as well as the supposed connection of Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano to the militant Maute group.

Apparently heeding rumors that circulated on social media weeks ago, Aguirre is suspicious about Aquino's visit to Marawi City two weeks before the Maute group attempted to lay siege to the capital of Lanao del Sur province. The siege was in reaction to a security operation to arrest Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon that led to a firefight with the militants, the military said on May 23.

Aguirre said Aquino and his colleague in the Senate minority Trillanes, congressman Alejano and former presidential adviser Ronald Llamas may be involved in a destabilization plot against the Duterte administration.

He said the group, which is identified with the previous administration, met with prominent clans in Marawi in May prior to the clash between the military and the Maute extremists.

A day before Aguirre's accusations, Trillanes and Alejano sent a supplemental complaint against Duterte to the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Aquino: I was in Marawi for DTI event

Aguirre's suspicions, also, came after the Department of Trade and Industry vouched for Aquino's activities in Marawi in May. The DTI's statement was in response to rumors that were beginning to spread in mid-May.

"It is unfortunate that (Aquino's) visit is now the subject of false news and reports," Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez said then. Lopez is Aguirre's colleague in Duterte's Cabinet.

READ: DTI chief defends Bam Aquino's Marawi trip

Aquino, as Lopez pointed out, was in Marawi to attend the launch of ARMM's first Negosyo Center. Aquino is the author of the Go Negosyo Law, meant to promote inclusive growth by encouraging small and medium sized businesses.

The DTI statement defending Aquino also called the theory "misinformation."

In a statement on Wednesday, Aquino said that a meeting between Aquino, Trillanes, Alejano and Llamas that Aguirre wants investigated never happened. He said that on May 2, the day that the supposed meeting happened in Marawi City, "I was the PUP commencement speaker at the PICC and attended the session at the Philippine Senate."

Aquino added: "My trip to Marawi was on May 19, 2017 to launch the first Negosyo Center in the ARMM and I had with me an [Armed Forces of the Philippines] escort throughout my trip, which can easily be verified through the AFP." He added Lanao del Sur Vice Governor Mamintal "Bombit" Adiong Jr., Brig.Gen. Rolando Joselito Bautista of the Army's 1st Infantry Division and Brig.Gen. Nixon Fortes of the 103rd Infantry Brigade were at the same event.

"It would be prudent for Secretary Aguirre to clarify dates, seek evidence and request for official statements from legitimate government agencies before he makes yet another false accusation," the senator said.

Sen. Trillanes, on Wednesday afternoon, issued his own denial. The former Navy officer said that Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana has said that he does not have any links to the Marawi siege nor the Maute group. 

"I also did not have any meeting in Marawi in May 2 since I haven't visited Marawi for the past three years," he said in a statement. He said that Senate records will show where he was on that day.

He also advised the Justice secretary to "avoid getting his intel from Facebook conspiracy theorists."

De Lima tagged in Resorts World attack

On Tuesday, Aguirre also expressed what he sees as a link between Sen. Leila de Lima, who is currently detained, and the deaths of dozens of people in the casino complex last week.

Aguirre cited a 2014 legal opinion by De Lima, who was then Justice secretary, prohibiting the Bureau of Fire Protection from implementing guidelines on casinos.

Directing the National Bureau of Investigation to look into the matter, Aguirre said De Lima's opinion could have contributed to the death of 37 individuals who were trapped and suffocated inside the Resorts World building after a gunman torched an area.

"Because of the said opinion, the [Philippine Economic Zone Authority], a government agency without competence and experience in fire protection, who was given the authority to implement the Fire Code and its implementing rules and regulations respecting PEZA registered companies like the casinos," Aguirre said in a previous report.

He said the fire bureau was prohibited from inspecting the casino establishments within the economic zone.

The claim was dismissed by PEZA Director-General Charito Plaza, who cited the law establishing the agency and authorizing it to regulate occupancy, fire and safety permits.

"We have civil, safety, structural, mechanical and electrical engineers who [inspect] during the construction of industries’ buildings and facilities and [conduct] twice a year," Plaza told BusinessWorld. — Camille Diola with reports from Edu Punay

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