Aguirre defends Duterte's human rights record before FilAms
NEW YORK CITY, USA – The Philippine Justice Secretary, Vitaliano Aguirre, strenuously sought to explain that a potent critic of his boss, President Rodrigo Duterte, is not a political prisoner and that rogue police officers are being charged in court for murdering a mayor and a Korean businessman.
In a briefing at the Philippine consulate on 5th Avenue in New York City, Aguirre said that Senator Leila de Lima, a former justice secretary in the previous administration jailed on drug charges, will not suffer the same fate as a mayor who was killed while in jail.
His answers were given in an unemotional tone.
"I really couldn’t believe what I heard because the Filipinos like her who is educated would believe the falsity in the reporting of the media," Aguirre said with some irritation of questions he got from one Filipina-Americans worried about the fate of de Lima.
Pointedly, the Fil-Am wanted to know whether de Lima "would be killed inside" her jail cell.
While the justice secretary seemed to have offered some offense at the notion, the possibility cannot just be waved aside given the two incidents where the government failed to secure the safety of its prisoners.
Rolando Espinosa, the mayor of Albuera, Leyte accused by Duterte of being a drug lord, was killed inside his jail by police whose claim that the mayor shot them was met invited ridicule in and outside the Philippines.
Aguirre insisted the investigation proceeded and the 19 officers involved were charged with murder.
He said Duterte vowed he will not interfere in the case and Aguirre said the president has been true to his word.
Aguirre also insisted that the scandalous murder of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo was on its way to resolution. A gang of police abducted, strangled and then tried to extort money from the family on the pretense that he was still alive.
What made the whole thing worse was that the Korean was murdered in the headquarters of the Philippine National Police in Camp Crame, drawing a shocked howl from Seoul.
An investigation showed "the police and even members of the National Bureau of Investigation, the agency attached to the DOJ, were indicted," Aguirre said, adding though that "murder charges were filed versus the policemen, (but) those filed versus the NBI were dismissed because of lack of evidence."
The implications though are staggering and monstrous. The police are basically out of control, especially since Duterte promised to shield them from prosecution in his anti-drug campaign.
The justice official insisted that the Philippine government is not in any way backing the wave of vigilante-style executions of mostly poor Filipinos caught up in the wave of extra-judicial killings which have swept the country.
He then proceeded to "appeal" to Filipino journalists in the US that they should treat the anti-drug campaign of Duterte with respect.
Aguirre said Manila has the resources to investigate and prosecute the still unsolved killings of 7,000 to 8,000 Filipinos in the drug war.
"All 7,000 cases happened or were filed in different national prosecution services. As of today, we have the capacity to decide on these," he said.
Given the creaky nature of the Philippine justice system where many cases take years to resolve, if ever, Aguirre insisted the Justice Department has the capacity to solve those killings.
In the same breath though, he said there are vacancies "in the Department of Justice in excess of more than 1,000 prosecutors."
And then there is the need to get more prosecutors "to resolve the 12,000 to 14,000 back log cases which we have inherited from the previous administration," he added.
"There is no state-sponsored killing in the Philippines," Aguirre declared. – Rappler.com
Rene Pastor is a journalist in the New York metropolitan area who writes about agriculture, politics and regional security. He was, for many years, a senior commodities journalist for Reuters. He is known for his extensive knowledge of international affairs, agriculture and the El Niño phenomenon where his views have been quoted in news reports.