When Leila de Lima and the Commission on Human Rights were investigating the Davao Death Squad right at the belly of the beast Davao City in 2009, they obtained a search warrant from the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 34 to inspect what confessed DDS hitmen revealed was the so-called Laud Quarry.
The abandoned limestone quarry included three cave systems. It was the death squad’s locus criminis, its place of crime. It was both place of execution and burial ground. No investigator, much less the sterile Davao City media, had ever penetrated the killing field. In 2009, the CHR had in its team crime forensics and investigators from both the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police, none of who were associated with Davao City, De Lima made sure.
The team exhumed dismembered human remains within the quarry, discovered at all three sites specified by Ernesto Avasola, a witness who was once part of the burial operations. Avasola had testified to such as early as 2005 to Philip Alston, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Human Rights.
The CHR inspection took place on July 5-6, 2009. And then they stopped. What happened? On July 20, quarry owner Bienvenido Laud filed a motion to quash the search and to suppress the evidence, which the Manila RTC granted on July 23, 2009. Who was Laud’s lawyer? It was Vitaliano Aguirre II.
Unknown to the media and the CHR team at that time, Aguirre had also instructed DDS to say to the CHR investigators that the remains in the quarry were those of Japanese soldiers of World War II. From her prison cell, Leila de Lima wrote of the affidavit of Arturo Lascañas, another confessed DDS hitman, submitted to the International Criminal Court against Rodrigo Duterte for crimes against humanity:
“At the time these searches were being conducted, Vitaliano Aguirre II instructed them that the human remains in the quarry are those of Japanese soldiers who died during World War II. As early as 2009, Aguirre already had a penchant for fabricating evidence, a talent that he would eventually use against me seven years later when he led and organized the fabrication of testimonies of Bilibid convicts and the filing of preposterous drug charges against me.”
Aguirre was not just law school classmate of Duterte. He was fraternity brother to him in Lex Talionis and his election lawyer in the 2016 elections. As it turned out, he effectively stopped the CHR investigations. He was, above all, Duterte’s Salvador del Mundo.
The case was elevated to the Court of Appeals, but which annulled the lower court’s motion to quash on April 25, 2011. Laud moved for a reconsideration, which the CA denied on October 17, 2011. Laud went to the Supreme Court.
On November 19, 2014, the Supreme Court in G.R. No. 199032 finally affirmed the Court of Appeals, noting that Laud Quarry in fact “yielded positive results.” It also said Avasola’s was a “first-hand eyewitness account that the crime of murder had been committed.” However, De Lima by then was no longer at CHR but was secretary of justice. The bell saved Duterte’s shame before the world.
One can now understand easily then that when Duterte became president, Aguirre’s work was cut out for him: file cases against Leila de Lima in the name of the Department of Justice. BTW, who chaired the Supreme Court decision on upholding the Laud Quarry search? It was Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno, with four justices concurring. On hindsight now, she was also an object of Duterte revenge, hence her quo warranto removal that was manipulated under his administration.
In filing three cases against De Lima, Aguirre had an embroidery spree weaving tales against her in pursuit of Duterte vendetta. Notice Duterte’s words before the cases were filed: “I have a lot of witnesses. I will use the inmates. I will use her lover” (and he then sings ‘Killing Me Softly’). All it needed was one who was a good fabricator of tales.
When former Bureau of Corrections officer-in-charge Rafael Ragos was asked to testify against De Lima by Aguirre, he had no lawyer. He was asked to sign a ready-made affidavit accusing De Lima of involvement in the New Bilibid Prison’s drug trade. Ragos testified in court later after his recantation that Aguirre threatened him if he refused to follow his order.
The DOJ even made up De Lima’s bloodline. In one of the three cases, De Lima’s co-accused was Jose Adrian “Jad” Dera. DOJ said he was a “nephew of De Lima” who conspired with her to raise Bilibid drug money for her senatorial candidacy in 2016. But the NBI said otherwise. It said it did not include Dera in the charge sheet in their initial complaint. “It was the DOJ that pressed charges against Dera.” Dera was also not related to De Lima by any degree of consanguinity.
Aguirre “willingly exploits and amplifies such fake news like a troll,” one senator described him. After the June 2017 Marawi Siege, Aguirre told reporters that opposition senators Bam Aquino and Antonio Trillanes IV met members of two prominent M’ranao clans in Marawi, the Alontos and the Lucmans, before the siege happened. “After they went there, the violence broke out,” insinuating that the senators were in a destabilization plot against Duterte. Aguirre showed reporters a photo of the meeting. He said it came from “raw intelligence.” It turned out the photo was taken at the Iloilo City airport and was posted on a DDS troll blog. That was his source of intelligence.
One media establishment best summed up Vitaliano Aguirre II: “During his time as justice chief, Aguirre oftentimes drew flak for spreading unverified information.” That was of course very kind. One youth group who filed a case against him in the Ombudsman called him the King of Fake News.
By obstructing justice for his love of Duterte, Aguirre was included in the complaint in the International Criminal Court.