Aguirre on De Lima's witness vs Duterte: 'Why investigate only now?'

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II on Thursday, September 15, deemed as "lies and fabrications" the allegations of an alleged former Davao Death Squad (DDS) member against President Rodrigo Duterte at a Senate inquiry that day.

In a statement, Aguirre also accused Senator Leila de Lima of attempting to "divert public attention" from the nearing House inquiry into the drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison when she was still justice secretary. De Lima had presented a new witness at the Senate inquiry, Edgar Matobato, who shared the alleged operations of the DDS when Duterte was Davao City mayor.

De Lima chairs the Senate committee on justice and human rights, which is conducting a probe into the spate of killings in the country since the Duterte administration launched its war on drugs.

"Senator De Lima had more than 6 years to file any case she deems worthy to be filed. The question that begs asking is why investigate only now?" Aguirre asked.

He noted that De Lima had served as Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairperson, and then as justice chief, yet "there was no case filed against Mayor Duterte" in connection with the Davao Death Squad. (READ: Davao Death Squad: What happened to the investigations?)

"Why only now when there will be a coming House of Representatives hearing on why drugs proliferated in the Bureau of Corrections? Who was heading the DOJ during that time? This is a futile attempt to divert the public's attention against parties who are responsible for drugs in the BuCor," Aguirre said.

The House probe is set for 9:30 am on Tuesday, September 20. The Senate inquiry may resume either on Tuesday or Wednesday.

De Lima filed the resolution seeking an inquiry into killings linked to the government's war on drugs in July, while Speaker Pantaleon Alvarez and other congressmen filed the resolution for the House inquiry in August.

The President had earlier released a matrix which alleged that De Lima might not have directly traded illegal drugs in the New Bilibid Prison, but she benefited from it by either turning a blind eye or facilitating the transactions.

'Coached imagination'

Aguirre urged the public to watch the House inquiry "so all will know the motivation behind the statements against Mayor Duterte in today's Senate hearing."

Aguirre believed that Matobato was "coached" in his allegations against the President. (READ: TIMELINE: Witness lists killings allegedly 'ordered by Duterte')

"It can only be the product of a fertile and coached imagination," Aguirre said.

"Desperate times call for desperate measures and somebody is really desperate!" he added.

Aguirre also questioned how Matobato could have been part of the Department of Justice's Witness Protection Program "without executing an affidavit." Matobato was under the program until early this year but left it. He said at the Senate inquiry that he was prompted to surface as he feared for his safety under the new administration.

"He is obviously not telling the truth. Can he be trusted?" Aguirre said.

He had more questions regarding Matobato: "How is it possible that he could just arrive at the Senate without him being invited or without him knowing that there is a Senate inquiry today? How can he not name who brought him to the Senate? Who is he protecting? It is just a simple question that he cannot answer."

The justice chief also addressed Matobato's allegation that the Laud property in Maa, Davao, is where Davao Death Squad victims are buried.

Aguirre said he was Benjamin Laud's lawyer. He was at the firing range in Maa, Davao when the CHR then headed by De Lima went to the site as part of its investigation into the DDS.

He said while some remains were exhumed, "the bodies did not prove anything."

"As a matter of fact, there were statements that they were bodies of people who were executed during the Japanese occupation," Aguirre said. – Rappler.com