Philippines’ Duterte lets justice minister resign, picks new police chief

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte said on Thursday he had accepted the resignation of his justice secretary, the eighth member of his Cabinet to leave since last year, and had picked Manila’s police chief to head the national police force.

Duterte gave no reason for letting go staunch loyalist and former university classmate, Vitaliano Aguirre, but it came at a time of rampant media speculation he would be sacked over his performance.

The president made the announcement during a speech, calling Aguirre “my fraternity brother”, adding that he was looking for a replacement.

Duterte named Metro Manila police chief Oscar Albayalde as the new head of the 175,000-member national police force, replacing the tough-talking Ronald dela Rosa, whose extended tenure ends soon.

Presidential spokesman, Harry Roque, had earlier said there were no indications Duterte would fire Aguirre, who attended a monthly Cabinet meeting late on Wednesday.

Rumors about Aguirre’s departure from the Cabinet went into overdrive in recent weeks after his justice department, due to insufficient evidence, dropped charges against several drug kingpins who had admitted their involvement in the drug trade.

Duterte has vowed to jail or kill what he calls “drug lords” as part of a bloody war on drugs in which small-time peddlers and slum dwellers have borne the brunt of a crackdown in which police have killed thousands of people.

Aguirre was also dragged into a controversy over an attempt to bribe two officials of the immigration bureau, which comes under his remit, and a proposal to make a businesswoman embroiled in a bribery scandal a state witness.

Aguirre was in the same law school fraternity as Duterte in Davao City, and he was the lawyer for a police officer accused of carrying out killings at Duterte’s behest during the 22 years Duterte was mayor of the southern city.

He is the latest in a series of top officials who have either resigned or been sacked from the Cabinet, or to have been rejected by lawmakers during confirmation hearings.

(Reporting by Manuel Mogato; Editing by Martin Petty, Robert Birsel)

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