Journalists decry Justice Secretary’s 'misquoted' claim

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 10) — Journalists denounced Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II's claim that they misquoted him on statements that opposition lawmakers had a hand in the bloody Marawi City siege.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) referred to Aguirre as the "mean-spirited coward" for trying to put the blame on the media for his remarks, which later turned out to be false.

"We, the media, will not be the scapegoats as you try to weasel your way out of your latest bout of foot-in-mouth disease. You lie when you claim you were 'misquoted' when you lied about the fictitious meeting between opposition politicians and prominent Marawi clan," NUJP said in a statement on June 9.

"There was no misquotation. Your words were recorded on video and audio. So, no, you are not passing the buck on to reporters who did what they are supposed to do — accurately report your official acts and pronouncements,” it added.

Members of the Justice and Court Reporters Association said on June 8 that they merely reported the facts by quoting Aguirre verbatim and showing the public videos of him presenting the photo.

"As responsible journalists, we also took the opportunity to perform our duty of verifying and counter-checking the information and photo that the Secretary has presented during the briefing, and found that several details and information were wrong," the group said in a statement.

Aguirre, in a press conference on June 7, alleged that administration critics Senators Bam Aquino and Antonio Trillanes, and Representative Gary Alejano had a hand in the planning of the ongoing Marawi crisis. He claimed the solons allegedly met with the prominent Alonto and Lucman families of Marawi City weeks before the attack on the city on May 23 by the Maute terror group. Fighting between Maute and government security forces is now on its 22nd day.

Related: Justice Secretary tags opposition senators to Marawi crisis, Resorts World attack

He also showed reporters a photo of an alleged Marawi meeting to reporters to support his claim. But this was also proven wrong when Zamboanga Vice Governor Ace Cerilles, who was in the photo, proved that the photo was taken in 2015.

Aquino, Trillanes, Alejano, and the Alonto and Lucman families denied the Justice Secretary’s allegations. Lawmakers from both houses of Congress came to their colleagues’ defense.

Aguirre backtracks

Later on in the day, Aguirre immediately retracted his remarks, stating the media misquoted him.

He also issued an apology clearing the Alontos and Lucmans, saying both families have never been part of any plot to cause harm.

Aguirre also denied his remark that the two clans met with opposition lawmakers prior to the Marawi crisis.

"For the record, I did not say there was a meeting between the two families and some lawmakers prior to the Marawi seige. The said meeting never took place and no member of both families ever met with Senator Trillanes, Congressman Alejano and Ronald Llamas," he said.

Aguirre, in a statement on June 9, cleared Senator Aquino.

"Upon further verification, I was able to establish that Sen. Bam Aquino went to Marawi City on May 19, 2017 upon invitation of Gov. Soraya Alonto-Adiong to promote the Go Negosyo Program . He was not present in the alleged meeting of opposition leaders said to have been held in Marawi City on May 2, 2017," he said.

He reiterated that he did not present to the media the said photo of Trillanes, Alejano, Lapid, Llamas, and Cerilles.

"I did not give, release or send to anyone any picture of any Marawi meeting. The picture of an alleged meeting allegedly taken in 2015 did not from me," he said.

This is not the first time journalists have raised an uproar with government over reportage. Duterte’s Communications Secretary Martin Andanar was in hot water earlier in February after he accused reporters who attended a press conference organized by Trillanes of having each received $1,000 in bribes to cover the event as part of a larger plot to overthrow the president.

This story was updated on June 13 to reflect the quotes of Aguirre.