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Duterte still trusts Aguirre, but…

Alexis Romero - The Philippine Star
Duterte still trusts Aguirre, butâ¦

Photo taken on Sept. 26, 2017 shows President Duterte talking to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre during the 120th anniversary celebration of the DOJ at the PICC. Krizjohn Rosales

MANILA, Philippines — Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II still enjoys President Duterte’s trust and confidence but should take seriously the Chief Executive’s threat that Aguirre would land in jail if drug suspects Peter Lim and Kerwin Espinosa go free, Malacañang said yesterday.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said Aguirre “perhaps” still enjoys the trust and confidence as long as he has not been fired.”

Roque admitted that Duterte was not happy with the justice department’s decision to clear Espinosa and Lim of drug charges supposedly because of weak evidence.

“Perhaps the trust remains. If not, he would have been fired by the President. And the President has not hesitated to fire even members of the Cabinet. For as long as he has not been fired, he enjoys the trust and confidence of the President... as is the case with all of us,” Roque said in a press briefing.

“But as I said, while you don’t take the President literally, you must take him seriously. He could consider this as a joke, and in fact, he said it in a rather joking manner. But from the almost six months now that I’ve worked closely with the President, he doesn’t waste words,” he added.

The justice department has cleared Espinosa, Lim and several others of drug charges because of weak evidence, angering Duterte, who immediately ordered a review of the decision.

Duterte was puzzled as to why Espinosa was cleared when he had revealed in a congressional hearing that he was a seller of illegal drugs.

Espinosa is the son of slain mayor Rolando Espinosa of Albuera, Leyte.

The younger Espinosa admitted in a congressional hearing two years ago that he was involved in illegal drugs trade.

Lim, meanwhile, denied having links with drug syndicates.

Other suspects cleared by government prosecutors were alleged New Bilibid Prison drug trafficker Peter Co, Max Miro, Ruel Malindangan, Jun Pepito, Lovely Adam Impal and 12 other unnamed individuals. All of them were accused of violating Republic Act 9165 or the Comprehensive Dangerous Drugs Act.

Duterte has threatened to put Aguirre in jail if Lim and Espinosa escape accountability. The justice department has created a new panel to review the decision.

“Whether or not it should be taken literally by Secretary Aguirre, I will repeat what I have often said: even you don’t take the President literally, you take him all the time seriously,” Roque said.

Roque believes Aguirre is taking the President’s words seriously because “he has already taken steps to create a new investigation panel.”

Critics claimed that the clearing of Lim and Espinosa has proven that the Duterte administration had launched a fake drug war.

There have been calls for Aguirre to resign but the justice chief refused to do so, saying he has not done anything wrong.

Roque downplayed criticisms that the President was not aware of the status of the case of Lim and Espinosa even if the drug problem has been discussed regularly in Cabinet meetings.

“You know, that’s why you have line agencies. That’s why the President tells all the secretaries, ‘do what should be done.’ And the President always emphasizes he does not meddle with contracts. So I don’t think it’s an issue that the President did not know about. But when the President found out, he made his sentiments very clear,” Roque said.

KERWIN ESPINOSA

PETER LIM

RODRIGO DUTERTE

VITALIANO AGUIRRE II

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