MANILA, Philippines – The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) called out Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II for blaming media for his false claim linking opposition lawmakers to the Marawi siege.
"No, Mr Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, we, the media, will not be the scapegoats as you try to weasel your way out of your latest bout of foot-in-mouth disease," the NUJP said in a statement on Thursday, June 8.
Aguirre came under fire after he alleged in a news briefing that several opposition lawmakers went to Marawi City prior to the siege, and even met with prominent families there. This, he claimed, might have had something to do with the clashes and a destabilization plot against President Rodrigo Duterte.
The lawmakers – Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV, Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, and Magdalo Representative Gary Alejano – denied the allegation and provided documentary evidence to prove where they were on May 2, the date they supposedly had a meeting at the Lake View Resort Hotel with the prominent clans in Marawi.
The justice chief later withdrew his claim, saying he was just "misquoted" by the media. He had personally apologized to Aquino, who demanded a public apology from the Cabinet official.
In response, the NUJP said: "There was no misquotation. Your words were recorded on video and audio. So, no, you are not passing the buck on to reporters who did what they are supposed to do – accurately report your official acts and pronouncements."
"It is bad enough that you have shown no qualms about throwing the law, the truth and justice out the window in your headlong rush to persecute – sorry, prosecute – perceived foes of the administration. But trying to blame others for your blunders unmasks you as a mean-spirited coward," it added.
Fight vs fake news
Journalists covering the Department of Justice and the judiciary also released a statement saying they "take exception" to Aguirre's claim that they had "misquoted" him.
Members of the Justice and Court Reporters Association (JUCRA Press Corps) cited videos and audio recordings of the interview also captured in their respective Facebook Live coverages.
They also pointed out that in doing their job as responsible journalists, they verified and counterchecked the information from Aguirre and found his claims to be false. (READ: FACT CHECK: Aguirre uses old photo to tag opposition lawmakers in Marawi crisis)
"As responsible journalists, we also took the opportunity to perform our duty of verifying and counterchecking the information and photo that the Secretary has presented during the briefing, and found that several details and information were wrong," they said.
"We remain committed to our role as a watchdog, especially in these times when 'fake news' have been spreading in social media and the truth is becoming scarce," the JUCRA Press Corps added.
On Friday morning, June 9, Aguirre denied that he ever released the controversial photo to the media. (READ: Aguirre denies releasing 'Marawi meeting' photo)
In a statement from her detention cell in Camp Crame on Friday, detained Senator Leila de Lima said, "Aguirre's reputation as the clown of this administration has been further solidified with his bungling accusation linking members of the opposition to the Maute siege of Marawi."
The senator, who is facing drug charges for her alleged involvement in the Bilibid drug trade when she was justice secretary, said Aguirre's latest claim "is part of the fake news campaign where the people will no longer be able to determine truth from fiction."
"The truth is whatever's now manipulated by Duterte's cabal and their social media operation....Fortunately, so far not every garbage churned out by Aguirre and Malacañang's propaganda machine is successful in deceiving our people," she added.
The claim against opposition lawmakers is Aguirre's latest allegation made in public that turned out to be unverified.
In February, he alleged that the supposed ambush attempt on the wife of a convict who had testified against De Lima in the House probe into the Bilibid drug trade was part of an attempt to destabilize the Duterte administration. Security officials brushed aside the claim.
In that claim, he implicated former senator Jamby Madrigal, whom he alleged tried to pay off Bilibid inmates to reverse their testimonies against De Lima; and his and the President's own party mate at PDP-Laban, Biñan City Representative Marlyn Alonte. Both categorically denied the allegation. (READ: Does Justice Secretary Aguirre believe in fake news?) – Rappler.com