PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte has accepted the resignation of Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, following weeks of speculation that the President would fire a member of his Cabinet.
“I accepted the resignation of Vic Aguirre, my fraternity brother, as Secretary of Justice. I am now... looking for a replacement,” the President said during an awarding ceremony at the Palace Thursday.
Duterte named Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra as acting Justice secretary, until a replacement is found, Palace officials said.
At the same time, Duterte named Metro Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde as the next head of the Philippine National Police, to replace Ronald dela Rosa, whose term has already been extended twice.
The President also appointed Lt. Gen. Carlito Galvez Jr., as the new Armed Forces of the Philippines chief to replace Lt. Gen. Rey Leonardo Guerrero, who retired Dec. 17, 2017, but whose term was extended for three months.
Last week, the President hinted at possible changes in the Cabinet, saying he was “unhappy” with the performance of some members of his official family.
Aguirre’s resignation stemmed from Duterte’s statement that he would “replace” the Justice chief if drug charges against alleged drug lords Peter Lim and Kerwin Espinosa would be dismissed, as recommended by a Department of Justice panel.
The President was also dissatisfied with the decision of the DoJ to place alleged pork barrel mastermind Janet Lim-Napoles under the government’s witness protection program.
Aguirre was also linked to the bribery case involving former immigration officials Al Argosino and Michael Robles.
Argosino and Robles were recently charged before the anti-graft court by the Office of the Ombudsman for allegedly extorting money from Chinese businessman Jack Lam.
Argosino and Robles are fraternity brothers of Duterte and Aguirre at the San Beda College of Law.
Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque had earlier said that there was no indication during Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting that Aguirre was about to be replaced.
“There was no indication that he was on his way out,” Roque said at a press briefing. “There was nothing extraordinary... He was just there like always.”
Guevarra, who takes over as acting secretary, was a member of the 2010 Philippine Truth Commission, deputy executive secretary for legal affairs at the Office of the President in May 2015, and commissioner of the Philippine Competition Commission in Febuary 2016.
He took up graduate studies in Economics at the University of the Philippines after obtaining his AB degree, major in Political Science, from Ateneo de Manila in 1974.
He worked as staff economist at the National Economic and Development Authority and the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas, and took up law in the evening at the Ateneo.
He placed second in the 1985 Bar examinations. His first job as a lawyer was with the technical staff of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.
He later joined a well-known law firm in Makati and formed his own law partnership in 1990. Until April 2015, Guevarra was in private law practice and a faculty member of the Ateneo School of Law.
Galvez, the new AFP chief, was commander of the AFP force that retook Marawi City from Islamic State-inspired terrorists.
Albayalde was on the shortlist of officers whom Dela Rosa, who was originally scheduled to retire in January, had picked as his potential successor.
The President announced Albayalde’s and Galvez’s appointment in speech at Palace’s Rizal Hall.
Albayalde thanked the President for his trust and vowed not to betray his confidence.
The new PNP chief belongs to the Philippine Military Academy Class of 1986.
Before becoming Metro Manila police chief, Albayalde served as deputy director of the National Capital Region Police Office’s Directorate for Plans.
Albayalde said he will continue to work to support Duterte’s advocacies, especially against illegal drugs.
Lawmakers on Thursday had mixed reactions to the President’s decision to accept Aguirre’s resignation.
Rep. Tom Villarin of the opposition Akbayan Party-list described Aguirre as “the epitome of injustice perpetrated under President Duterte’s watch.”
He said his replacement would still “blindly follow the dictates of the President.”
Rep. Gary Alejano of the opposition Magdalo Party-list crowed about Aguirre’s exit.
“It is ironical that the person designated by the President as his primary hitman to target critics and opposition members, the President’s legal lynchpin in his bloody drug war, the conjurer of the President’s terror campaign against human rights advocates is has fallen from grace,” he said.
Rep. Jericho Nograles of PBA Party-list said any secretary serves at the pleasure of the President. “They will know when it is time to go,” he said.
Opposition Senator Risa Hontiveros said Aguirre’s resignation was “too late the hero for justice zero.”
“The damage is done. By being allowed to stay in his post for the longest time, Mr. Aguirre turned the Justice Department into a leading purveyor of fake news, a manufacturer of fake legal cases to harass the opposition, and a refuge for drug lords, plunderers and other high-profile criminals,” Hontiveros said.
“Our justice system is now in shambles, with more and more people trusting it less and less. Mr. Aguirre’s resignation is a hollow gesture. Sorry, but too late the hero for justice zero,” Hontiveros said.
Liberal Party Senator Paolo Benigno Aquino IV said he was happy that the opposition and Duterte were one in this issue.
In the eyes of the public, he said, the credibility of Aguirre has been diminishing due to the blunders he had committed.
He noted said the Filipino people deserve a credible, capable and respectable Justice secretary who will lead with integrity and rebuild our trust in the Department of Justice.
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