'Mas magaling ka pa sa scriptwriter ng Game of Thrones': Aguirre grilled in Senate for fake news

MANILA, Philippines – "Mas magaling ka pa sa scriptwriter ng Game of Thrones (You're even better than the scriptwriter of Game of Thrones)!" Senator Antonio Trillanes IV told Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II in a hearing on Thursday, August 31, as he grilled the Cabinet member for supposedly spreading "fake news."

Thursday's hearing was for the 2018 budget of the Department of Justice (DOJ), but much of the time was devoted to Trillanes confronting Aguirre over his controversial and disputed statements.

Trillanes defended his line of questioning by saying that he had to scrutinize the head of the department which the budget would be given to.

The senator played videos of Aguirre's media statements to drive home his point. The justice chief would sometimes retort in a raised voice, but Trillanes would always cut him off and continue with his videos.

In one video, Aguirre was shown telling a news anchor that an affidavit tagged a Navy alumnus as having masterminded the stabbing of inmate Jaybee Sebastian inside the New Bilibid Prison in September 2016. In the course of the interview, Aguirre said Trillanes is a Navy alumnus.

The senator cried foul at the mention. Aguirre, sounding agitated, told Trillanes: "That's not my investigation. That's the CIDG (Criminal Investigation and Detection Group)!"

"Huwag mo akong pagtataasan ng boses (Don't raise your voice at me)," Trillanes shot back.

Jack Lam issue

Another tense exchange occurred when Trillanes replayed Aguirre's media interview, where the justice secretary called some senators "gago" (fools) last February. This was during the height of the investigation into the alleged P50-million extortion attempt involving the Bureau of Immigration (BI) and tycoon Jack Lam.

"It is stupid that anyone would accuse me of partaking of P50 million because I was the one to divulge that. Trillanes wanted to link me to the P50-million extortion without a single shred of evidence, kaya sino'ng hindi magagalit diyan (who would not be mad)?" Aguirre said.

Addressing Trillanes, Aguirre added, "Bakit ko naman ida-divulge (Why would I divulge that if I were involved)?"

The senator then said, "Baka nagkabistuhan na (Maybe because the truth was already coming out)."

Aguirre appeared agitated once more but Trillanes went on.

Trillanes even quipped: "Suwerte mo may abogado ka sa blue ribbon committee kaya ka na-absuwelto, so don't push your luck (You're lucky someone in the blue ribbon committee is lawyering for you that's why you're getting off the hook, so don't push your luck)."

It was an apparent swipe at Senator Richard Gordon, who was chairman of the committee that heard the Lam extortion issue and which eventually cleared Aguirre. 

Earlier on Thursday, Trillanes and Gordon had a heated exchange, after the former implied that the latter was trying to protect President Rodrigo Duterte's son Paolo from the issue of smuggling and corruption inside the Bureau of Customs (BOC). Gordon said he would file an ethics complaint against Trillanes.

In the course of the grilling, Aguirre defended himself by saying he receives reliable information which are the basis for his media statements.

But Trillanes told him: "Napaka-gullible 'nyong mag-process ng information, dapat vina-validate 'nyo 'yan (You're so gullible in processing information, you should validate reports first). If you're the Secretary of Justice, you don't formulate theory, you file cases." (READ: Does Justice Secretary Aguirre believe in fake news?)

Madrigal, Alonte issue

Trillanes also rehashed the issue of Aguirre tagging former senator Jamby Madrigal and Biñan City Representative Marlyn Alonte in an alleged bribery attempt at Bilibid. The justice chief had claimed that inmates were being paid to retract their statements on Senator Leila de Lima's alleged involvement in the drug trade.

Madrigal and Alonte both denied the accusation.

"Mas magaling ka pa sa scriptwriter ng Game of Thrones (You're even better than the scriptwriter of Game of Thrones)!" Trillanes said.

At that point, Senator Loren Legarda, chairperson of the finance committee which was handling the budget hearing, jumped in and said she doubts Madrigal and Alonte would be involved in bribery.

Legarda told Aguirre: "With so much disinformation and fake news, I suggest that you vet the information to avoid controversies... Whoever is your informant, ask your staff to vet it first before communicating it to the media."

Related to the alleged payoff attempt was a supposed ambush on inmate Noel Martinez's wife Lalaine. Police denied that there was an incident report of the ambush in Makati City, but Aguirre said Lalaine – who allegedly sustained a gunshot wound – was too afraid to go to the police. Asked why there were no hospital records of Lalaine being treated, Aguirre claimed that she self-medicated.

On Thursday, Aguirre said, "I stand by that story." He pointed to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) which was tasked to investigate the supposed ambush.

NBI Director Dante Gierran, however, said during the hearing that he couldn't remember what happened in the investigation.

The Liberal Party on Wednesday, August 30, called on Aguirre to resign over fake news. Youth leaders also filed an ethics complaint against Aguirre before the Office of the Ombudsman over the same issue.

After a long day of grilling, Trillanes withdrew his motion to defer approval of the DOJ's budget. It was eventually passed in the committee level on Thursday. (READ: Vitaliano Aguirre: 'Fake news king' to opposition, 'bright boy' to Duterte– Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.