President Rodrigo Duterte has sacked Interior Secretary Ismael Sueno following allegations of corruption, a move lauded by lawmakers.
Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said on Tuesday Duterte removed Sueno after a Cabinet meeting Monday night.
“President Rodrigo Duterte has dismissed Department of Interior and Local Government Secretary Ismael Sueno, citing loss of trust and confidence,” Abella told reporters.
Sueno, one of the key persons who convinced Duterte to run for president in 2016, also helped in the implementation of the government’s controversial campaign against illegal drugs.
Malacañang said the dismissal takes effect immediately. However, the President admitted that he has yet to find Sueno’s replacement.
Duterte, in a speech at the inauguration of the Metropolitan Manila Development Authority’s crisis management center yesterday, said he blew his top when Sueno admitted that he had not read the legal opinion of the DILG on a sketchy government deal.
“Last night, we had a Cabinet meeting and I was trying really to avoid an embarrassing situation.
But after reading the legal opinion of my office, a Cabinet member said that he was not informed of the legal opinion of his own office,” Duterte said.
“If you answer me with that kind of statement, that you never read the legal opinion of the legal officers of your own office, it’s either you’re taking me for a stupid idiot or you are lying through your teeth. Kaya ako na putang ina (that’s why I cursed). So I said, you’re fired. I just simply said you’re fired. Ngayon totohanan yan (now that’s for real),” he added.
Duterte declared that he will not appoint former senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. to the DILG post because doing so would affect the electoral protest that the former lawmaker filed against Vice President Leni Robredo.
“The summary dismissal served as a warning that Mr. Duterte would not countenance any questionable or legally untenable decisions by any member of the Cabinet,” Abella said.
The Palace official added that Duterte looked into the possible illegal public transactions that Sueno may have entered into.
“The President seemed to just be interested in establishing whether or not the Secretary had actually engaged in certain activities,” Abella told reporters.
“Apparently, the President has done due diligence and so he has checked into the matter and apparently he has taken note of several legally untenable situations,” he added.
Abella however would not reveal details about Sueno’s alleged illegal acts.
“Let’s keep the details — set the details aside for whatever actions need to be taken afterwards,” he said.
Duterte reportedly received a confidential letter detailing the allegations hurled against Sueno.
During the Cabinet meeting on Monday night, Abella said the President was “quite open and frank in questioning Sueno.”
“What he [Duterte] is actually doing is really restoring trust in the government because apparently for the longest time, the people have become, in a sense, hopeless about the situation. But he is actually empowering the Filipino people once more by giving them a trustworthy government. It’s quite a challenge,” he said.
Abuse of power
The Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte-National Executive Coordinating Council, a national volunteer organization that helped Duterte during the presidential campaign, has accused Sueno of abusing his power as head of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG).
Sueno was also accused of receiving a payola from illegal gambling lords and owning a hotel in South Cotabato. He denied the allegations.
On Monday, Sueno admitted having received an offer of payola from gambling syndicates but that he turned it down.
It was not the first time that Duterte dismissed a trusted government official. The President earlier gave National Irrigation Administration Administrator Peter Laviña the boot after he was accused of irregularities.
Senator Panfilo Lacson endorsed DILG Undersecretary Catalino Cuy as Sueno’s replacement.
“If Sec Sueno is indeed out of the cabinet, the president need not look far. DILG Usec Catalino Cuy would be an ideal replacement,” Lacson said in his online post.
Cuy was a former chief of the Davao City police before he was appointed by Duterte DILG undersecretary for police matters.
Lawmakers lauded Duterte’s decision to fire Sueno.
Reps. Karlo Nograles of Davao City, Jericho Nograles of Pwersa ng Bayaning Atleta party-list, Ruffy Biazon of Muntinlupa and Salvador Belaro of Una ang Edukasyon party-list pointed out that Cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the President.
“Simple loss of trust and confidence is enough reason for him to let you go because Cabinet members serve as alter egos of the President. The President is sending a very strong message: the President is not corrupt, and he will not tolerate any corruption in government,” Nograles, who also serves as the Chairman of the House Appropriations panel, said in a statement.
“Bosom buddies, allies, even those instrumental in his election campaign…like the President said, he will not hesitate to kick you out, even at a whiff of a scandal. His anti-corruption statements are not empty rhetoric. The President means business when it comes to his promise to rid the bureaucracy of corruption,” Nograles added.
“The President is strengthening his foothold, instilling discipline, doing what needs to be done.”
Biazon shared Nograles’ sentiment, noting that political will prevailed even if Sueno was a prime mover in the electoral campaign of the President.
WITH LLANESCA T. PANTI