Officials like Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who sow confusion and then display their arrogance when outed, are the last thing the nation needs in times as precarious as these.
Mr. Aguirre has actually shown his slip in the past. He said the killing of a Korean businessman right inside the headquarters of the Philippine National Police was the work of a mob. He said his predecessor Leila de Lima, now in jail on drug charges, was to blame for the Resorts World Manila attack.
But his behavior this week makes us wonder why President Rodrigo Duterte has not realized he is an embarrassment to the administration and considered replacing him with somebody we can take seriously.
On Wednesday, Aguirre talked about how some opposition lawmakers were spotted in Marawi City, meeting with prominent clans, three weeks before the Maute group committed atrocities there. The attack led to the declaration martial law in Mindanao.
“[I cannot know] why after they went there, [there was trouble] after two weeks. They met with the people there, they met with several families there,” he said.
He even showed a picture to the media and hinted that the meeting may also be related to the P79 million cash discovered in one of the houses occupied by the attackers.
The photo turned out to be an old one, taken in 2015 at the Iloilo airport, and was taken from the Facebook wall of one of the officials present there.
Instead of eating humble pie and apologizing profusely for his blunder, Aguirre insisted he was misquoted by the media.
Worse, on Friday, he denied showing any photos to the media at all. “I did not give, release or send to anyone any picture of any Marawi meeting. The picture of an alleged meeting allegedly taken in 2015 did not (sic) from me,” the secretary said in a text message.
How it is possible to misquote somebody given the existence of video and audio recordings is just baffling.
In its indignation, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines issued a statement calling Aguirre a mean-spirited coward. “No, 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 statement said.
Tragedies like the one now happening in Mindanao must not be given political color. Everybody suffers, and the last thing Marawi residents need is for some clown from the executive to make this an us-versus-them issue when lives are on the line.
We think, however, that the Justice secretary, by attempting to promote fake news for his own ends and then ducking for cover to escape blame, has taken the perfect opportunity to show us the kind of official —person—he really is. It’s not somebody we can stomach, much less respect.