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Has Duterte fired Aguirre? Palace reacts

Malacañang on Tuesday doused speculations that President Rodrigo Duterte has axed Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, who has been under fire following the dismissal of criminal charges against alleged drug lords.

"No statement from PRRD [Duterte] to that effect," Senior Deputy Executive Secretary Menardo Guevarra said in a message to reporters.

Duterte, in a speech in Davao City on March 23, said he will soon fire more officials. The President, however, did not give details as to who will get the ax this time. 

The President had previously fired several government officials over allegations of corruption and excessive foreign travels.

On March 15, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Aguirre still enjoys the President's trust.

"[T]he President has not hesitated to fire even members of the Cabinet. For as long as he [Aguirre] has not been fired, he enjoys the trust and confidence of the President," Roque said.

A law school classmate and fraternity brother of Duterte, Aguirre has bucked calls for him to quit after a panel of prosecutors dismissed the criminal charges against self-confessed drug distributor Kerwin Espinosa, businessman Peter Lim and several other alleged drug personalities.

The Justice chief then launched a criminal probe against the investigating prosecutors, saying he had to do it because of the public uproar that followed the publication of the controversial resolution.

Even Duterte himself got upset by the resolution.

Aguirre had already ordered the review of the dismissal of the charges against Lim, Espinosa, convicted drug lord Peter Co and other personalities with a hearing set by the new set of prosecutors for April 12.

Justice Undersecretary Erickson Balmes, who routinely answers media questions for the department, said he has not received news that Aguirre had been fired.

"Parang wala naman pong dumating na ganyan na news dito po sa amin. Ang alam ko po is SOJ is having his routine checkup today," he said in a message to reporters. — Virgil Lopez and Nicole-Anne C. Lagrimas/RSJ/ALG, GMA News