HOLY Week came early for Ismael “Mike” Sueno who shed tears as he bid goodbye to employees and officials of the Department of the Interior and Local Government (DILG) on Thursday, saying his removal from the Cabinet was the result of “misinformation” on a fire-truck deal fed by three underlings to President Rodrigo Duterte.
Sueno cried as he was consoled by a Catholic priest, and said he felt like Jesus Christ who was “also accused of so many things not true” and who forgave his accusers.
Duterte, who was in Palawan on Thursday, immediately retorted that he could not be wrong, as he is a lawyer.
“I could never be misinformed. I’m a lawyer, I’m misinformed? When I make a move, when I fire you, right there, I know what I’m doing,” the President told reporters.
“As I have said, the first whiff, even if untrue, you go down. A lot of people can replace you. We are not short of talent, bright people who are honest, and with integrity,” he added.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd revealed that he had heard from President Duterte himself more than two weeks ago during a trip to Thailand that Sueno was on his way out.
“We were three people, as if we were in an executive session, when the President confided that he is thinking of dismissing Sueno from his Cabinet,” Sotto told a weekly forum at the Senate.
The former South Cotabato governor said he felt relieved to let go of the post and was looking forward to more time for his family in Marbel town, and to tend to his farm.
“My wife has been complaining when I was not able to eat and sleep well for two days. I cried [after I was dismissed]to at least release the hatred inside me,” Sueno told DILG employees in Quezon City.
Sueno clarified that he did not hold any grudge against Duterte for dismissing him as DILG chief, and that he had forgiven three undersecretaries who sent a confidential memo to the President of alleged corrupt activities – John Castriciones, Jesus Hinlo and Emily Padilla.
“In fact, I am very thankful. It’s very excruciating but I am thankful to the President now that I have been given time to rest and be with my family,” Sueno said in Filipino.
Sueno and his group, the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte-National Executive Coordinating (MRRD-NECC), were among those who helped the Duterte presidential campaign.
But Sueno, who denies any wrongdoing, said he felt belittled by the President when he was dismissed before other Cabinet secretaries during a Cabinet meeting in Malacañang on Monday night.
Sueno said he was immediately confronted by Duterte about the Rosenbauer fire trucks deal and “tried to answer,” but said the President refused to listen.
“During the Cabinet meeting, he then told me ‘I am sorry Secretary Sueno, I am dismissing you now.’ I was belittled after hearing that and I think my fellow secretaries were also shocked [that time],” Sueno said.
In a 10-page clarification, Sueno explained “the truth” behind the Rosenbauer deal in which he allegedly ordered the payment for 76 fire trucks from Austria.
“The Republic of the [Philippines] has not paid…even a single centavo. Are [Castriciones, Hinlo and Padilla] not aware that [the Philippine government’s]counterpart payment shall only commence eight years from the date of delivery?” Sueno’s explanation read.
Sueno said it was the late Interior chief Jesse Robredo “who signed the first Rosenbauer fire truck agreement” in April 2012.
Epimaco Densing 3rd, assistant secretary for plans and programs, came to the defense of Sueno, saying the former secretary was “a good man” and was “like a father.”
Densing said he didn’t care if the three undersecretaries “were also out to oust” him. “If they can oust [Sueno], then they can also do that to me. If they will be successful, then I would rather go back to [the]private sector.”
Densing urged his colleagues in the DILG to join him in “fighting corrupt officials.”
On Wednesday, Duterte appointed former police officer Undersecretary Catalino Cuy as officer in charge of the DILG.
Sueno said Cuy “will be able to handle” the DILG.
WITH REPORTS FROM CATHERINE S. VALENTE AND JAIME R. PILAPIL