Youth groups file ethics complaint vs Aguirre over fake news

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II now faces an ethics complaint for allegedly spreading fake news.

Ahead of a formal inquiry as pronounced in the Senate to address Aguirre's false claims, youth groups took the lead and filed a complaint on Wednesday, July 5, before the Office of the Ombudsman.

They accused Aguirre of violating Republic Act 6713 or the Code of Conduct and Ethical Standards for Public Officials and Employees.

"In this day and age where fake news is rampant, there are fake sites on social media, we believe that it is a misuse of public office to actually spread misinformation. Our public servants must be held to higher ethical standards," said Karla Yu of Millennials Against Dictators, one of the complainants against Aguirre.

It is an administrative complaint that could lead to suspension or dismissal from office if the Ombudsman finds grounds.

But it doesn't have to go through the judicial mills before Aguirre is made accountable, according to the complainants. President Rodrigo Duterte, they said, can just fire him now.

"If he resigns, that's very good, that's delicadeza, but our strongest position would be for the President to actually take him out of office," Yu said.

Aguirre and his spokespersons at the Department of Justice (DOJ) have not yet responded to requests for comment.

False claims

Among the grounds cited in the complaint is Aguirre's false claim of opposition lawmakers holding a meeting with influential clans in Marawi City, and insinuating that this might have triggered the clashes still ongoing there. It turned out there was no such meeting as all implicated personalities provided proof they were somewhere else on the date Aguirre mentioned.

The supposed photo of the meeting is also false – it was a photo taken in 2015 at the Iloilo airport.

Complainants also cited Aguirre's announcement that there was an ambush try on Lalaine Martinez, wife of a high-profile drug convict who testified against Senator Leila de Lima, on the day that the senator was arrested.

Police denied there was a report of such an incident, but Aguirre stood by it and even showed photos of a bloodied Lalaine and her car with a broken windshield. Aguirre said Lalaine did not report the incident out of fear. He added there are no hospital records that day of Lalaine being treated for her bullet wound because she self-medicated.

Complainants also cited Aguirre's accusation that staff of the Korean embassy were involved in organized crime. The South Korean government slammed Aguirre's allegation as "wrong, unfounded and misleading" especially as he did not present evidence to substantiate it.

Duterte's full trust 

Aguirre has not publicly apologized over the fake Marawi meeting news, despite demands from one of the lawmakers he tagged, Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV.

It got a lot of flak from senators, with Senator Grace Poe announcing she would summon Aguirre to the Senate for an explanation.

Even then, Malacañang said Aguirre still has the full trust of the President.

"He has been doing an excellent job actually in the DOJ," Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella said. (READ: Vitaliano Aguirre: 'Fake news king' to opposition, 'bright boy' to Duterte)

But for the complainants, enough is enough.

"We cannot take these things sitting down and we must allow the public to take a stand on these issues and tell our government, tama na po, hindi na po natin kayang sikmurain 'yung mga kasinungalingan na pinapalaganap (we've had enough, we can no longer stomach these perpetuated lies)... more so from officials of government who are in a position of power," Yu said. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.

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