JUSTICE Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre 2nd has begun packing up and shredding documents, expecting to be fired anytime, Justice department sources told The Manila Times on Wednesday.
Sources told The Times Aguirre was on his way out, having lost the trust and confidence of President Rodrigo Duterte after a series of blunders.
A source said the undersecretaries of Aguirre have instructed the staff of the Office of the Secretary to shred some of the documents before the appointment of a new justice secretary.
Aguirre could still be given another position by the Chief Executive, however.
The source said that one of the positions being eyed for Aguirre was the chairmanship of the Social Security System, which was vacated by Amado Valdez in February.
The source said the Duterte was irked by the blunders committed by the DoJ under Aguirre’s watch, including the bribery case involving immigration officials Al Argosino and Michael Robles and the dismissal of the drug charges filed against suspected big time drug traders Kerwin Espinosa, Peter Co and Peter Lim.
Argosino and Robles are fraternity brothers of Duterte and Aguirre at the Lex Talionis Fraternity of the San Beda law college.
The President was also said to have been irritated that four of the five DoJ undersecretaries were filled up by Aguirre with their fraternity brothers: Erickson Balmes, Antonio Kho, Reynante Orceo and Reymundo Mecate.
Bello, Calida eyed as replacements
Among the names being floated to replace Aguirre are Labor Secretary Silvestre Bello 3rd, Solicitor General Jose Calida, Land Registration Authority Administrator Renato Bermejo and lawyer Edna Batacan.
However, The Times’ source said Calida could not leave the Office of the Solicitor General because of the sensitive cases he was handling, particularly the quo warranto petition against Chief Justice on leave Maria Lourdes Sereno.
Bello won’t be a newcomer to the DoJ as he was an undersecretary and secretary during the time of President Fidel Ramos.
Bermejo is from the “Davao bloc” of Duterte, a former prosecutor of Davao City and judge of the Malita Municipal Circuit Trial Court of Davao Occidental.
Batacan is a veteran lawyer whose expertise is in litigation, handling cases in the Office of the Ombudsman and Sandiganbayan.
She handled Duterte’s cases when he was mayor of Davao City.
No resignations – Palace
Malacañang on Wednesday clarified it had not received resignation letters from Aguirre and Bello, amid talk of a Cabinet revamp.
Speaking to reporters, Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the Palace was not aware of any Cabinet shakeup involving Aguirre and Bello.
“The Office of the President has not received any letter of resignation from either Secretary Bello or Secretary Aguirre. And the President has just returned from his Holy Week visit to his home town and he has not given any statement regarding this matter,” Guevarra said during a news conference.
Aguirre and Bello attended the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday afternoon in Malacañang.
“We are not aware of any impending Cabinet revamp,” the Palace official said.
Duterte in February said Bello was resigning to focus on his senatorial bid, but the latter denied this.
Guevarra said Duterte was “generally satisfied” with Aguirre’s performance except for some “debacles” such as the dismissal of the drug charges against self-confessed drug trader Kerwin Espinosa, businessman Peter Lim, and several others.
Amid public outrage and Duterte’s displeasure over the dismissal of the charges, Aguirre ordered a new investigation into Espinosa and Lim’s drug cases, leaving it “wide open” for new evidence and testimonies.
WITH CATHERINE S. VALENTE