Question that irked Justice Sec. Vitaliano Aguirre: Will De Lima be murdered in jail?By Cristina DC Pastor
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre stated there have been a total of 7,080 drug-related deaths since Rodrigo Duterte became president in July 1, 2016.
In a report before members of the Filipino American community on April 18, Aguirre presented the following figures:
7,080: total number of people killed in War on Drugs campaign since July 1, 2016
2,555: suspected drug personalities killed in police operations, as of January 31, 2017
3,603: victims in cases of deaths under investigation, as of January 9, 2017
922: victims in cases where investigation has concluded, as of January 9, 2017
Asked if the Department of Justice (DoJ) has the capability and resources to investigate all cases, he replied, “Of course,” and quickly followed with a disclosure that there is currently a vacancy of more than 1,000 prosecutors in his department.
He said, “These cases, all 7,000 cases, happened or were filed in different national prosecution services. As of today, we have the capacity to decide on these.”
He was speaking at a forum billed an “Interaction with the Philippine Judicial and Bar Council Delegation” hosted by the Philippine Consulate. Officials said the group is in New York where they met with judicial officials in Albany. With Aguirre in the delegation were Reynaldo Umali, Angelina Sandoval-Gutierrez, Jose Mejia, Maria Milagros Fernan-Cayosa, and Toribio Ilao, all of them members of the JBC.
Aguirre highlighted two cases of killings that received so much attention from the media and the international community because of the mysterious circumstances of their deaths while they were in police custody. He said the deaths of Albuera, Leyte Mayor Rolando Espinosa and Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo were found to be “murders” committed by policemen after he ordered an investigation.
“There is some irregularities and anomalies in the case of the Mayor of Albuera,” said Aguirre. “And true enough after the investigation, the NBI found that murder has been committed by the 19 suspects, policemen led by then Col. (Marvin) Marcos.”
In the case of Jee Ick-joo, a South Korean businessman strangled while in police custody, Aguirre said he also ordered an investigation.
“I also ordered an Investigation of Jee Ick-joo, and true enough the police and even members of the NBI were indicted also before the DoJ,” he said. “Murder charges were filed against the policemen but those filed against the NBI were dismissed because of lack of evidence.”
As reported in The New York Times, “No evidence that Mr. Jee was involved in drugs has been produced. He worked for Hanjin Heavy Industries, a South Korean shipbuilder, according to the police.”
Aguirre cited these two cases to reiterate that despite what is being reported in the Philippine and foreign media, “There is no government-sanctioned killings…no state-sponsored killings in the Philippines.”
He shared an encounter he had with a Filipina American, who asked about the fate of government critic, former Senator Leila De Lima who is currently in jail. She is facing drug trafficking charges allegedly committed when she was the secretary of justice.
As narrated by Aguirre, “This Filipina was asking why (De Lima) is being politically persecuted and if she would suffer the same fate as what happened to Mayor Espinosa. In other words, she wanted to know whether Secretary De Lima would be murdered inside Camp Crame.”
The secretary expressed dismay at the question, again blaming the media “adverse to the republic of the Philippines” for false reporting on the De Lima case. “I really couldn’t believe what I heard because the Filipina who is educated would believe the falsity in the reporting of the media,” he said.
He declared De Lima “is not and cannot be considered a political prisoner.” It was during her term as justice secretary for six years, he alleged, that the New Bilibid Prison was being used as an “area where drug-transactions were being contracted.”
De Lima has maintained she is not involved in any illegal drug business, insists she is being politically persecuted by the Duterte government.