THE rumor spread last week that Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre would be fired has been proven true despite an earlier denial by Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque. Okay, President Rodrigo Duterte did not openly “fire” Aguirre. He was given a not-so-graceful exit by “resigning” instead of being fired. Which actually amounts to the same thing because he is out of the Cabinet.
This story, coupled by the President’s announcement that National Capital Region Office (NCRPO) Director Oscar Albayalde will take over as chief of the Philippine National Police (PNP) after the long-serving Ronald “Bato” dela Rosa will finally be let go is an interesting development for the Duterte government. This seems to be the taming of this administration’s wild and woolly phase.
Also, with the 2019 elections looming, we surely will be seeing a different Congress, specifically a different House of Representatives. And it looks like House Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez will also be making an exit, what with his conflict with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte, who seems bent on ending his political ascendancy in his district. Alvarez, Aguirre and Bato out? That’s change.
I actually didn’t think early on Duterte would let go of Aguirre considering the role he played in the early stage of Duterte’s rule. He partnered well with dela Rosa in ensuring that the government’s war against illegal drugs would end up the way it is being implemented now. Aguirre fit the job in that he was not afraid to be controversial to please his boss and follow his marching orders.
Aguirre presided over the assault on Sen. Leila de Lima, partnering with Alvarez in the process, that resulted in her being jailed and her being maligned. He was instrumental in gathering the witnesses, many of whom were high-profile Bilibid convicts, that surfaced in a House committee circus against de Lima. While doing that, Aguirre never flinched.
While Aguirre’s undoing may have been the recommendation by his underlings to dismiss the case filed by the police against Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Lim, et al, he also is known to have gone easy on the policemen who killed Kerwin’s father, Rolando Espinosa Sr., inside a jail in Leyte. Also on that, Aguirre didn’t flinch.
Aguirre battled the government’s critics using his own controversial style, one that earned him the tag of fake news king. Imagine if the justice secretary was another person than Aguirre. He or she couldn’t have done that.
We already know dela Rosa and his preferred method of implementing the war on drugs, which is “tokhang” (“tuktok” and “hangyo”). Only dela Rosa could probably have waged that intense kind of a war that resulted in thousands of suspected drug peddlers and drug users killed since it was launched in the early years of the Duterte administration.
I do not therefore see their replacements—former senior deputy executive secretary Menardo Guevarra for Aguirre and Albayalde for dela Rosa—to be as persistent, colorful and controversial. Guevarra has long been low profile while Albayalde disciplined more police officials involved in the drug war than any other regional police chiefs. Meaning both are better characters.